New York restaurants must post calories, Canada lags behind

January 23, 2008 in Food Companies, Manufacturing and Trends, Healthy Eating, Heart Health, Nutrition Labeling, Nutrition Topics in the News

New York restaurants must post calories, Canada lags behind

The New York City Board of Health has voted to have all chain restaurants post calorie information on their menus.

Beginning March 31, all menu items must have their calorie counts displayed on menu boards and menus. This change will affect all restaurants with 15 or more outlets, though some restaurants have already made calorie counts available.

The NYC Department of Health believes that "calorie information provided at the time of food selection would enable New Yorkers to make more informed, healthier choices." Obesity is a sizable problem in New York - over half the city's adult population is overweight or obese.

Fast food restaurants in New York are set to oppose the new rule, fearing that it would over-complicate menus and provide little benefit to consumers.

Canada lacks legislation

In Canada, disclosure of nutrition information in fast food and chain restaurants is entirely voluntary. Restaurant food provides an increasingly large percentage of Canadians' meals and snacks. 

Canadians spend more than $40 billion annually on restaurant food - much of which is high in calories, saturated fat, and sodium. These nutrients are known contributors to heart disease, diabetes, and certain forms of cancer.

In 2005, The Canadian Restaurant and Foodservice Association (CRFA) started a voluntary nutrition information program. This program asks participating restaurants to make the calorie, fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrate and protein content of standard menu items readily available to consumers in the form of in-store nutrition brochures, posters, notices on menu boards or menus, or even nutrition information posted online.

How are Canadian restaurants doing?

The Centre for Science of Public Interest (CSPI), a consumer advocacy group, recently conducted a survey to see if participating restaurants were living up to these requirements.

Of the 27 registered participants, 19 provided brochures or posters in only a minority of the outlets surveyed - or none at all. Nearly half of the chains participating in the CRFA program provided no nutrition information at any of the outlets surveyed.  One-third didn't even provide nutrition information on the company website. 

Many chains bury nutrition information on corporate websites, in brochures tucked behind counters, on the bottoms of tray liners, or in posters mounted where as few people as possible will see them. 

Not a single restaurant provided the number of calories or the amount saturated fat and sodium directly on the menu, where consumers could readily see and use it before choosing foods.

CSPI is continuing to lobby the Canadian government to enact laws requiring restaurants to disclose nutrition information to the public.

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