The government of Ontario plans to introduce legislation this winter that would require large restaurant chains to include nutritional information on their menus. Consulting with health care authorities, parents’ groups and food industry reps, the government will also be looking into practices around marketing junk food to kids.
While a similar bill has been tabled numerous times in the past by other parties, this is the first time it was supported by the current government and passed unanimously in the legislature.
It’s high time, according to advocates. A 2011 poll found that a full 95% of Ontarians support menu labelling. It’s also been an initiative on the table to respond to the obesity crisis. The number of overweight or obese children in Ontario has jumped 75 per cent over the last 30 years, according to the government. In 2004, 27.5 per cent of Ontario kids between the ages of 2 and 17 were overweight or obese.
The Heart & Stroke Foundation and the Ontario Medical Association have publicly thrown their support behind the initiative.
“With today’s busy lives and vast array of food choices, it’s crucial to provide everyone with the ability to make well informed decisions about the food we eat and feed our children,” said Mark Holland, Director of Health Promotion and Children & Youth, Heart and Stroke Foundation. “This important initiative will go a long way in empowering Ontarians to make healthy choices when dining out or purchasing prepared food. Eating well is absolutely one of the best investments Ontarians can make to decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke.”
Numerous U.S. states and municipalities including New York City, and California have long been mandating calorie labelling for large chain restaurants, and vending machines. In March 2010, the U.S. government mandated calorie labelling for all large chain restaurant, vending machine and vending machine operations as part of its health care reform legislation.
In Canada, only British Columbia has introduced legislation, launching an Informed Dining campaign in 2010 – but only two major chain restaurants were voluntarily recruited to participate. Canada-wide, the Canadian federal Food and Drug Regulations mandated the disclosure of calories and 13 nutrients in December of 2002 (including sodium, and saturated fat) on pre-packaged foods, restaurants and foodservice operations were expressly exempted from those requirements. Deb Matthews legislation would change that for large scale chain restaurants in Ontario. She said that Mom and Pop shops would likely still be exempt, limiting the burden on their business.