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The calorie counter-intuitive effect of restaurant menu calorie labelling

  • Laura McGeownEmail author
Commentary

Abstract

As of January 1, 2017, the Healthy Menu Choices Act mandates that food service premises with 20 or more locations in Ontario must display the number of calories in every food item sold on menus. The impetus for this legislation was to enable Ontarians to become aware of the calorie content of foods and beverages consumed outside the home, and make healthier dietary choices while dining out. Though arising as an initiative to attenuate the development of obesity and current obesity rates, evidence suggests menu labelling does not significantly alter individuals’ food choices. Moreover, focusing primarily on caloric content may be an ineffective, and perhaps detrimental, strategy to effect change in the obesity epidemic. Beyond the initiative’s questionable utility, there has been a lack of consideration as of yet to the unintended negative implications this initiative may have on eating disorder (ED) symptomatology in the general population and those attempting to recover from an ED. The objective of the current commentary is thus to argue that in light of evidence of minimal benefit and the potential for harm, nutrition labelling on menus may be a misguided public health initiative.

Keywords

Eating disorder Obesity Calorie Public health Nutrition labelling Food choices 

Résumé

Depuis le 1er janvier 2017, selon la Loi pour des choix santé dans les menus, les chaînes de restauration qui comptent 20 établissements ou plus en Ontario sont tenues d’afficher le nombre de calories de chaque aliment au menu. La loi vise à permettre à la population ontarienne de se familiariser avec la teneur calorique des aliments et des boissons consommés à l’extérieur du foyer et de faire des choix alimentaires plus sains dans les restaurants. L’intention de l’initiative était de freiner la montée de l’obésité et de réduire les taux d’obésité actuels, mais les données semblent indiquer que l’étiquetage nutritionnel des menus ne modifie pas sensiblement les choix d’aliments des particuliers. De plus, la polarisation sur la teneur calorique pourrait être une stratégie inefficace ou même nuisible pour endiguer l’épidémie d’obésité. Outre l’utilité contestable de l’initiative, il n’a pas été tenu compte jusqu’à maintenant des conséquences négatives imprévues qu’elle pourrait avoir sur la symptomatologie des troubles alimentaires (TA) dans la population générale et chez les personnes qui tentent de se remettre d’un TA. Dans notre commentaire, nous faisons valoir que vu les preuves de ses bienfaits minimes et de ses préjudices possibles, l’étiquetage nutritionnel des menus pourrait être une initiative de santé publique malavisée.

Mots-clés

Troubles alimentaires Obésité Calorie Santé publique Étiquetage nutritionnel Choix d’aliments 

Notes

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares she has no conflict of interest.

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Copyright information

© The Canadian Public Health Association 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyLakehead UniversityThunder BayCanada

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