Think choosing a raisin bran muffin at a fast-food restaurant is better than going for a doughnut?
A Boston cream doughnut has 250 calories while that muffin has a whopping 410.
New Democratic MPP France Gélinas wants people to make healthier food choices when they stop at fast food restaurants. She introduced a private member’s bill Tuesday that will compel chain restaurants, with five or more locations, to post calorie counts for hamburgers, hot dogs, fries, wrap, milkshakes and other items on menus.
Hectic lifestyles means more parents are choosing quick restaurant meals, she said. However, hidden high fat and sodium in many food items is contributing to growing childhood obesity rates, increases in hypertension, heart attack and stroke.
“This is a simple change that has the potential for a huge impact in people’s eating habits,” Gélinas said at Queen’s Park.
Consumers already get this information when they go to the grocery store, so they have the right to the same information when they go to a restaurant, she said.
Health Minister Deb Matthews was supportive of the NDP idea. “This is an issue that has some merit and I want to look at it more closely,” she told reporters.
As well as calories, Gélinas is also taking aim at sodium. An Ontario adult should consume only 1,500 mg of sodium a day, but the average adult takes in twice that amount, she noted. She wants high-sodium foods flagged on menus.
The Canadian Food and Restaurant Association says it’s working with the federal government and some provinces, including Ontario, to make nutrition information available to customers at point of sale.
“People won’t have to ask for it, it will be readily visible for customers,” said Joyce Reynolds, executive vice-president of government affairs for the CFRA.
“It will be legible, meaningful and accessible. It wouldn’t be limited to a single nutritional value and that is one of the challenges with calorie posting.”
The Ontario Medical Association is supportive of the bill as a tool to help fight childhood obesity. “Over half of the adult population and one quarter of Ontario’s children are overweight or obese,” Dr. Doug Weir, a child psychiatrist and OMA president, said in a statement.
“Obese children show a disease profile that matches that of overweight or obese adults, meaning they begin to have serious chronic diseases much earlier in life.”
Matthews added she is establishing a healthy kids panel with an objective to reduce childhood obesity by 20 per cent in five years.
In 2009, Gélinas tried to pass a similar bill, also called Healthy Decisions for Health Eating. The bill did pass second reading but the legislation died when the House was prorogued.