Calorie counts belong on menus, MDs say
April 8, 2009
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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
"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-
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.
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
With files by Robert Benzie