The Ontario government wants to help keep track of your calorie consumption

The market at Brock now lists calorie counts on some food items. / Joanna Ward

 

In an effort to combat obesity in Ontario, all restaurants in the province are legally required to provide customers with the calorie content of food items right on the menu as of January 1, 2017. The new rules apply to any restaurant chain that has at least 20 locations in Canada, as well as cafeterias that are open to the public. The rules apply to coffee shops, fast-food restaurants and movie theatres as well, meaning you’ll now be able to see at a glance just how many calories are in that venti peppermint mocha or large buttered popcorn.

The purpose of this new regulation is to provide consumers with the ability to make informed decisions about what they’re buying and eating, in the hopes of combating Canada’s rising obesity problem. Stats Canada reports that in 2014 more than 14 million people across Canada self reported as overweight or obese. To be considered overweight, a person has to have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of less than 25, for a person who is 5’8” means a body weight of 164 pounds or more. The Healthy Menu Choices Act also requires businesses to post a statement concerning the number of calories the average person requires in a day, around 2000 for the average adult and about 1500 for children 12 and under, though some may require more or less depending on their activity level.

To enforce the law, local public health officials will be able to visit food service locations at random and unannounced. Fines would then be given to companies who fail to provide the calorie information on a per day basis. Also regulated are things like the size and placement of the information, preventing companies from separating the calorie information from the product which it describes, or from putting it in a font too small for consumers to read. The new laws do not apply to smaller businesses. For example, a local restaurant owned and operated by someone in the city and not part of a large chain would not be required to provide the information.

But will this change on the menu affect sales? A study published by Stanford University in 2011 says, “No”. Using a Starbucks in New York as a test subject, the study found that posting calorie content lead to a six per cent reduction in calories consumed by customers, mostly in the form of lower-calorie pastries or food items chosen, or fewer food items purchased. The study says the Starbucks location’s drink sales were mostly unaffected by the change. The change in calorie consumption at the restaurant lasted for at least ten months after its initial implementation, and revenues were unaffected.

For small businesses though, nearby chain restaurants posting their calorie content may be a problem.  The study also showed that when the calorie-posting restaurant was located within 50 metres of a competitor,the sales for that restaurant actually increased, rather than just holding steady. This suggests that customers were choosing not to go to the competitor because they did not know the calorie content of their products. Though it is not enforceable, this might encourage smaller businesses to get on board with the new law anyway.

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