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We agree … What do you think?

News / City Hall


Toronto chain restaurants should post calorie and sodium info on menus, medical chief says

Dr. David McKeown wants city council to require chains with 10 outlets or more to list calorie and sodium counts on their items.


Items on the breakfast menu, including the caloric content, are posted at a McDonald's restaurant in New York in this September 2012 file photo.

Mark Lennihan / The Associated Press

Items on the breakfast menu, including the caloric content, are posted at a McDonald’s restaurant in New York in this September 2012 file photo.


Toronto’s top public health official wants the provincial government to force restaurant chains to list calorie and sodium counts on their menus — and says Toronto should go ahead on its own if the province won’t act.

Toronto would be the first city in Canada to make calorie and sodium disclosure mandatory. If all of the recommendations from medical officer of health Dr. David McKeown were accepted, the city’s law would be stricter than similar menu-disclosure laws in the U.S.

New York City began requiring chains with more than 15 restaurants to post calorie counts in 2008. President Barack Obama’s signature 2010 health-care law will soon require all U.S. restaurants with 20 or more locations to post calorie counts.

McKeown wants Toronto’s bylaw to cover chains with 10 or more restaurants across Canada or $10 million in gross revenue. He also wants them to be compelled to post sodium information.

McKeown says the city’s board of health should first urge the province to enact its own law. If the province doesn’t do so by September, McKeown says, the city should begin developing a Toronto-specific bylaw.

“Given the high frequency of eating away from home and the prevalence of nutrition-related health concerns, people have a right to know what is in their food when eating out, just as they do when grocery shopping,” McKeown says in a report to the board of health.

An expert panel on childhood obesity advised the province in March to impose mandatory calorie disclosure. It did not mention mandatory sodium disclosure.

“They actually said don’t do sodium, it’s too complicated — want to make it easy for people to understand,” health minister Deb Matthews told reporters on Tuesday. She said the province is “taking very seriously” and “looking very closely at” at the recommendation on calories, but she would not be more specific.

McKeown himself notes in his report to the board that “evaluations of menu labelling programs in the U.S. have found mixed results.” Some studies have shown that calorie-disclosure programs do not prompt consumers to make different decisions, while others have shown that they do.

Surveys have found strong public support for mandatory menu disclosure – 70 per cent in one national poll by Ipsos Reid in 2011 – but the proposal is sure to generate intense opposition from the restaurant industry.

Stephanie Jones, the Ontario vice-president of the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association, said the association is opposed to mandatory disclosure. Calorie and sodium counts alone do not allow customers to make informed assessments, Jones said.

“For years, there’s been much discussion around the fact that calories are just not the right piece (of information). If you’re looking at a flaxseed bagel versus a danish, if you’re looking at Diet Coke versus a glass of milk, calories are going to send the wrong signals to consumers. And so we need that complete and consistent nutrition information,” she said.

The industry, Jones said, has endorsed British Columbia’s voluntary Informed Dining program, in which participating restaurants provide comprehensive information — but in a brochure, a wall poster, or separate menu, not the main menu. The restaurants must put the Informed Dining logo on the menu itself to tell customers that the additional information is available.

In addition to the calorie and sodium counts, McKeown writes, a provincial law or Toronto bylaw should require “comprehensive nutrition information (i.e. calories plus 13 core nutrients) to be made available to customers upon request at the point of purchase in the form of a pamphlet, brochure, or alternate format” and “contextual statements about daily recommended levels of calories and sodium to be posted on the menu or menu board.”

The board of health will consider McKeown’s proposal at a meeting Monday. The board chair, Councillor Joe Mihevc, called it “brilliant.” Nutrition information “has a better impact if it’s right on the menu itself,” since people often make their decisions in a “split second,” Mihevc said.


With files from Robert Benzie

Source: thestar.com