Food Labeling and Fatalicious Choices

Would you choose something different if you knew that your favourite baked goody – nestled in right beside your steaming cup of joe – contained nearly a quarter of your daily calories?  Well, it would be at least worth considering – wouldn’t it?!  But….how would you know?

Several members of BCAHL met with a prominent community leader earlier this week to discuss policies in our Healthy Families Agenda.  When we got onto the topic of food labeling he shared his personal and quite illustrative experience. He told us the story of how he had developed a bit of an addiction to maple scones and started adding them to his regular coffee shop order. He said he was shocked when he looked up the nutrition info on the company’s website after noticing his expanding waistline – only to discover that he was adding 600 additional calories to his daily diet!

In this case, he was lucky to have access to the nutritional information – but he might have saved his heart the extra work if that nutritional information was available when and where he was deciding what to order.

New York was one of the first jurisdictions to require chain restaurants to provide nutritional information at point of purchase. This was put into the health code  which provides an excellent rationale above and beyond the fact that over half of New Yorkers are overweight or obese.

A study released yesterday looks at the efficacy of New York’s food labeling in terms of modifying choices. The findings showed a slight but positive effect. The researchers surveyed over 7000 customers at a variety of fast food restaurants in 2007 (one year before the regulation) and 8000+ in 2009 (9 months after the regulation was brought in).  At three major fast food chains (representing 42% of all customers) the calories per purchase declined between 5.3% and 14.4%. The study also found that 15% of customers used the calorie information and those folks typically purchased 106 fewer kilocalories than those that didn’t see or use the info. However, one place with a heavily promoted special saw the calories ordered go up by 17.8%!

Some would say, when you’re in a fast food joint or other chain restaurant you know what you’re in for. And that may be true for some of the people, some of the time.  But people have many different reasons for going into a restaurant – time, budget, location, lack of alternatives, etc. BCAHL’s position is that restaurants with multiple locations and standardized recipes that have the resources to provide nutritional information should be making that information available to their customers,

Because we all have a right to know and the right to choose – whether it be a healthier, balanced meal or the occasional fatalicious indulgence.

Rita Koutsodimos
Manager, Advocacy & Communications
July 2011

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