Go to almost any fast food chain restaurant or coffee shop in Ottawa and you’ll notice that the number of calories in each item is posted on the menu board. On January 1, 2017, Ontario implemented the Healthy Menu Choices Act, becoming the first province in Canada to require chain restaurants and coffee shops with more than 20 locations, as well as grocery and convenience stores and movie theatres to post the calorie counts of every standard food item and drink on the menu. The goal of the signage is to help consumers make more informed and healthier choices.
Having an idea of how many calories you should be eating provides context when making purchasing decisions. The act requires establishments to post a statement indicating the average number of calories an adult (2,000) and a child from age four to 12 (1,500) needs per day.
The number of calories you need varies depending on several factors including age, gender, weight, body composition and level of physical activity. It’s also important to understand that not all calories are equal and, unfortunately, the act does not require the posting of nutritional information beyond the calorie counts.
Do the numbers on signage affect your buying decisions and eating habits? While I couldn’t track down a provincial study, an American survey found that only 12 per cent of respondents ordered menu items with fewer calories after reading the caloric content. Only half of these consumers even noticed that calories were posted on menu boards when the numbers were initially posted.http://tinyurl.com/y8jkfsdo
Other reports show improvement in selection when caloric information is posted but some reports show that certain subgroups – such as young men – buy higher-calorie items after reading caloric info. Perhaps these consumers want to gain weight or get more value for their money. http://tinyurl.com/ycjaufav
Do adults use caloric information to make smarter choices for their children, if not for themselves? This does not seem to be the case. A review of American consumers’ receipts from fast food restaurants in a city where caloric labelling is mandated versus one where it is not, suggests that while menu board calorie posting increases awareness, it doesn’t decrease the calories purchased by adults for their children. http://tinyurl.com/y87ascbj
Canadians love coffee. In a 2015 survey of 80 countries, Canada ranked number one for litres of coffee consumed per capita at food service establishments. Unfortunately, coffee shops sell a plethora of high-calorie doughnuts, croissants and beverages, delivering a jolt of temptations that many consumers find difficult to resist when they buy coffee, even when caloric info is in plain view.
The long-held belief is that if you have a deficit of 3,500 calories, you lose a pound of fat. This rule is based on mathematical research by Max Wishnofsky in 1958, and although it’s been quoted by weight-loss professionals and scientists for decades, it’s an oversimplification that’s been refuted in the past few years. For example, a 500-calorie deficit (skip the muffin, exercise more) per day and it’s assumed you’ll lose a pound of fat each week. Weight loss includes not just fat, but lean tissue if you don’t exercise, and water. In theory, you should lose 52 pounds per year with an ongoing 500-calorie daily deficit. Anyone who’s tried to lose weight knows that rapid weight loss is easier the first few days or weeks of dieting and then it slows down. This is due to a variety of factors including the body’s metabolic adaptation. When we cut calories and begin to lose weight, our body expends fewer calories. To continue with weight loss over time, you’d have to cut out even more calories to lose each additional pound. Over a year, you’d have to restrict your intake by as much as 7,000 calories to lose a pound! http://tinyurl.com/m78tpnt
Unfortunately, most websites, apps and dieticians still base their advice on the 3,500-calorie rule rather than more up-to-date predictive models.
While losing weight is not as simple as choosing a cup of coffee and a banana over a Frappuccino and a muffin, it’s a good place to start. Healthy habits begin with small steps. Small steps begin with knowledge. Caloric information has the potential to improve waistlines and health. I’d like to see additional nutritional information at the point of sale – such as sodium and sugar content – as well as healthier menu options. What you do with the information is up to you.