December 11, 2018

BY NICOLE CLARK

The first of January saw an addition to menus across Ontario.

As part of the Healthy Menu Choices Act, all food service providers open to the public with 20 or more locations must display the calorie count of each food and drink item on their menus, labels or tags.

The act came to be after members of provincial parliament from all three parties voted in favour of Bill 45, the Making Healthy Choices Act, in May 2015.

Places such as fast-food restaurants, sit-down restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries, grocery stores and movie theatres fall under the act.

Chartwells cafeteria at Doon campus has also been affected.

“This legislation is allowing students and the public at large to make informed choices when dining out. Chartwells is in compliance with the act and students will find calories and calorie ranges on our menu boards,” said Jennifer Bruder, manager of Chartwells at Conestoga College.

Ellen Gregg, a public health nutritionist for the Region of Waterloo, said, “People need information to base their food decisions on. Providing calorie information is just one of many tools that we can put in place to make it easier for people to make healthier choices.”

Calorie counts will be displayed on the menu you are handed after sitting down and on menu boards, tags and labels. When you get the food or drink yourself you will be able to see the calories listed directly below, beside or above the name or price of each standard food item.

A standard food item is food or drink that is sold in a standard or regular size, served, processed and/or prepared in a regulated location (fast-food or dine-in restaurant, grocery store), meant to be consumed right away, without further preparation by the customer (coffee shops, bakeries, fast-food and dine-in restaurants).

“It’s a lot smarter, at least this way people are able to see up front, whereas before you would have had to go looking for the calorie count,” said Adrian Holman, a first-year business marketing student.

“I think it’s great. I think consumers need to know what’s in their food and how many calories it consists of. I think it is just important to be aware,” said second-year public relations student, Mwenda Ball.

Calories are something the human body needs to fuel basic bodily functions and physical activity. Being aware of the number of calories you eat and drink is part of obtaining the correct amount of energy needed every day.

When asked whether the change will make a difference to consumers and encourage them to be wiser about what they put into their bodies, Bruder said, “I believe it’s a matter of personal choice,” adding, “It will be interesting to see if this act has any lasting effects on campus.”

Gregg said, “Calorie labels help people to make selections with lower calories. However, lower calorie selections are not necessarily always healthier. For example, a low calorie salad may still be extremely high in sodium. Calories are just one aspect of diet quality.”

Ball said, “I think it could be 50-50. I think that people who have a better understanding of nutrition are going to see the calories and know what that means, as opposed to people who don’t know what comprises good, proper nutrition. They’re going to see calories and they are not going to necessarily think, ‘OK, I can have that sandwich, which is 400 calories, but I could also have that granola bar which is 200.’ But then the sandwich has far better nutrients and you’re actually not going to gain weight with the sandwich versus the granola bar.”

Dee Vanderveer, a first-year legal office administration student, said, “It depends on if they are paying attention. I mean, I’m a grandmother, so I think I pay a little bit more attention than say, an 18-year-old. I don’t think 18-year-olds go around caring, ‘Oh wow, that’s 350 calories, so I can only have one.’ I don’t think that’s going to happen. I don’t think that’s going to change much depending on the age.”

The businesses affected by this change currently must add one of two statements to their menus. Either:

Adults and youth (ages 13 and older) need an average of 2,000 calories a day, and children (ages 4 to 12) need an average of 1,500 calories a day. However, individual needs vary.

Or:

The average adult requires approximately 2,000 to 2,400 calories per day. However, individual calorie needs may vary.

January 1, 2018 will bring another change and the previous statement will be changed to: Adults and youth (ages 13 and older) need an average of 2,000 calories a day, and children (ages 4 to 12) need an average of 1,500 calories a day. However, individual needs vary.

Inspectors from local public health units will have visited all of the businesses that must be following the law.

Though the enforcement of the new law has not yet started, any complaints about a business not adhering to the law will be met by the public health unit with education, a warning and a fine if no changes are made in an attempt to follow the law.

“The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care engaged in a consultation process with the various stakeholders, including industry representative and many of the large chains with a presence in the province,” Aldo Franco, the manager of Health and Protection and Investigation at the Region of Waterloo said.

“They had the opportunity to provide input and comment on the legislation before it came into effect. Having said that, we are not aware of any resistance from local food service providers at this time.”

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