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Calorie Counts Belong On Menus

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  • 1. Calorie counts belong on menus, MDs say April 8, 2009 Comments on this story (37) THERESA BOYLE HEALTH REPORTER Ontario doctors want restaurants and school cafeterias to list the caloric content of food items on their menus to counter the growing problem of obesity, particularly amongst children. The Ontario Medical Association yesterday held a news conference to call for provincial legislation forcing restaurant chains and schools to post calorie counts, alongside prices, on menus and menu boards. "We believe that revealing the caloric content of food ... will help provide consumers with the information they need to make healthier choices," said Dr. Ken Arnold, president of the 28,000- member body. The OMA wants all chain restaurants to be bound by the legislation. The doctors' lobby is also pushing for an education campaign to inform Ontarians about the impact of caloric intake on weight gain and obesity. Asked about eating disorders, the OMA said the campaign will also address why it is important to eat enough calories. A December 2008 study by the OMA said one in four kids aged 2 to 17 is overweight or obese, with a body mass index at or above the 85th percentile for those of the same age and sex. The study also found 75 per cent of obese children grow up to be obese adults. At Queen's Park, Health Promotion Minister Margarett Best said the government has been crusading to combat obesity. "We certainly know, as usual, there is always more to be done," she told reporters. But Best, who hadn't yet read the OMA report, was noncommittal on whether the Liberals would follow the recommendations. The OMA proposal is welcomed by provincial New Democrats, who have already introduced legislation calling for calorie labelling. NDP health critic France Gélinas last month introduced a private member's bill that would force restaurants with gross annual revenues of greater than $5 million to disclose the caloric content of all menu items, including food and drinks. Her bill, which is scheduled to be debated tomorrow, would also limit the amount of trans fats that restaurants could include in food and drinks. "I saw this as a huge public health issue that needed to be addressed," said Gélinas, noting that obesity costs the province billions in health-care dollars.
  • 2. Similar legislation is in place in New York City, where chains with more than 15 locations nationally are required to list calories on menus and menu boards. A similar law has been passed in California and a bill currently before the U.S. Congress would impose national requirements. The Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association, in a statement emailed yesterday to media, noted that restaurants are already taking steps on their own to educate consumers about nutrition. "Food service operators in Ontario are committed to meeting the needs of their customers who are seeking nutritional, allergen and ingredient information when they dine out. Many chain restaurants provide detailed nutrition information for standard menu items in the form of in-store posters and brochures as well as website calculators," the email stated. Indeed, the websites for both Subway and McDonald's provide calorie counts for menu items. In its email, the restaurant association indicated there could be challenges in expecting outlets to post accurate calorie counts when ingredients often change. "Reliable nutrition information can only be provided for menu items that are prepared using standardized ingredients. At most restaurants, ingredients change on a regular basis, supplier substitutions are common, and food is frequently made to order. Even national chain restaurants rely on regional suppliers, and this affects the nutritional profile of menu items," it said. The same concern was expressed by Catherine Parsonage, senior manager of nutritional services at the Toronto District School Board. She said the board aims to prepare healthy meals, but serving sizes might not always be exactly the same and recipe ingredients can vary. Meantime, schools do not have food labs, dieticians and computer software needed to provide calorie counts and nutritional analyses. With files by Robert Benzie

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