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Fast food menu labelling urgently needed in Victoria to help combat obesity

Better fast food labelling is urgently needed, according to Cancer Council Victoria. Pictured is a mocked up version of a menu board that makes the point.

Health advocates are calling for new laws that will force fast food outlets to reveal the nutritional value of their food and drinks after an investigation found that almost 80 per cent of major Victorian chains did not display basic kilojoule information on their menus.

Research by Cancer Council Victoria and The Heart Foundation, to be released on Tuesday, found that only two in nine of the state’s biggest fast food chains supplied enough nutritional information to allow consumers to make informed choices. The groups slammed the food chains, which include McDonald’s and Hungry Jack’s, claiming consumers needed “bionic eyesight” and detective skills to figure out how many kilojoules are hidden in popular burgers, donuts, pizzas and chips.

“The study found that seven out of our nine fast food chains are just not providing nutritional information that is in line with some other states,” Kellie-Ann Jolly, the director of cardiovascular health programs at the Heart Foundation, said. “It means that we are not really empowering consumers to be able to choose healthier choices when they are going into these fast food chains because they are really not clear about the information.”

The heath groups believe new labelling laws are needed to help fight obesity. They claim Victorians are scrambling to catch up with the rest of Australia when it comes to getting fast food giants to display kilojoule information on menus. In 2012 New South Wales introduced laws that force fast food chains – as well as cafes, bakeries, beverage and snack food shops – to cleary display nutritional information. South Australia and ACT have since followed suit and Queensland is also in the process of making the change.

Ms Jolly said that together with an education campaign, this kind of labelling can influence meal choices that are 15 per cent lower in kilojoules than prior to having new labelling. “We have seen this has been a really effective strategy in NSW because they have been able to evaluate it and see that (people) do chose meals with fewer kilojoules if they can read the information clearly … so they are obviously making a switch with their choice as they come into the store,” she said.

The Cancer Council Victoria study found that fast food chains denied consumers basic nutrition information about their products by not including the amount of kilojoules on all products on their menu boards or by purposely obscuring the information, making it hard to read and tricky to find.

The study examined the labelling of 59 fast food outlets across the state, including Hungry Jack’s, KFC, McDonald’s, Nando’s, Pizza Hut, Red Rooster, Subway, Boost Juice and Donut King. Researchers looked at the display of kilojoule information for all items on the menu board, what size the information was in, legibility and whether outlets stated the average adult daily energy intake – 8700 kilojoules.

The study included businesses that are required to comply with menu labelling legislation in NSW to find out if they offered the same nutritional information in their Victorian shops.

Key findings:Only 22 per cent of the chains surveyed, including Boost Juice and KFC, consistently displayed kilojoule information in line with the requirements in NSW. However, all businesses surveyed had some kilojoule information in their shop.Almost half of the 59 outlets did not have kilojoule information on all items for sale.About 19 per cent did not display the average adult’s daily intake of kilojoules (this is a mandatory labelling requirement in NSW).About 47 per cent of shops met the NSW standards for font, size and position of the kilojoule information.About 73 per cent provided clearly legible nutritional information.All chains surveyed provided kilojoule information on their websites.

Source: Cancer Council Victoria

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