Restau­rants should post calo­rie counts

The Prince George Citizen - - Opinion - – Mario Canseco is the pres­i­dent of Re­search Co. and writes a reg­u­lar col­umn for Glacier Me­dia news­pa­pers. MARIO CANSECO

On the first day of 2019, the prov­ince of On­tario will cel­e­brate the se­cond an­niver­sary of the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Health Menu Choices Act. The leg­is­la­tion, de­signed and en­acted by the pro­vin­cial Lib­eral gov­ern­ment, com­pels all food­ser­vice chains that have at least 20 lo­ca­tions in the prov­ince to post the num­ber of calo­ries in all food and drink items they sell.

At the time, On­tario’s nutri­tional guide­lines for restau­rants, fast-food out­lets and cof­fee shops were crit­i­cized by some, who saw the dis­play of caloric in­for­ma­tion on menus as an­other ex­am­ple of a “nanny state.”

Cen­tre-right politi­cians and com­men­ta­tors in the prov­ince were as­tounded at the thought of a pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment med­dling in the meal choices of res­i­dents.

Cur­rent On­tario Premier Doug Ford, who sup­planted Lib­eral Kath­leen Wynne af­ter this year’s pro­vin­cial elec­tion, is cur­rently pre­oc­cu­pied with more press­ing con­cerns, such as the fu­ture of the auto in­dus­try and his op­po­si­tion to a fed­eral car­bon tax. Within this back­drop, the now-gov­ern­ing Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive Party has not sig­nalled any in­ten­tion to do away with the Health Menu Choices Act.

Other parts of Canada have in­ad­ver­tently ben­e­fited from the fact that many bill­boards and menus are de­signed for the coun­try’s most pop­u­lous prov­ince. Other ju­ris­dic­tions do not have leg­is­la­tion as strin­gent as On­tario’s when it comes to in­form­ing the pub­lic about calo­ries. Still, west­ern prov­inces have ended up re­ly­ing on the same dis­plays that On­tar­i­ans have, com­plete with in­for­ma­tion that was nowhere to be found two years ago.

In Bri­tish Columbia, the In­formed Din­ing pro­gram was de­signed to pro­vide res­tau­rant guests with nutri­tion in­for­ma­tion on their menus, with an em­pha­sis on calo­ries and sodium. The pro­gram launched in 2012 – un­der the pre­vi­ous BC Lib­eral ad­min­is­tra­tion – and cur­rently boasts more than 1,900 dif­fer­ent food-ser­vice out­lets. While im­pres­sive, the list does not in­clude ev­ery res­tau­rant. Bri­tish Columbia’s pro­gram, un­like On­tario’s, is vol­un­tary.

When Re­search Co. asked Bri­tish Columbians if it is time for the prov­ince to fol­low On­tario’s lead and make calo­rie dis­plays in restau­rants manda­tory, four in five res­i­dents (81 per cent) sup­ported the idea.

There is lit­tle in­di­ca­tion that this change, if im­ple­mented, will be re­garded as a “nanny state” move: over­whelm­ing ma­jori­ties of Bri­tish Columbians of all gen­ders, ages, re­gions and po­lit­i­cal lean­ings be­lieve this is the right course of ac­tion.

Bri­tish Columbia has tra­di­tion­ally been one of the health­i­est prov­inces in Canada. In its lat­est up­date re­lated to coun­try­wide phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, Statis­tics Canada re­ported that 64.9 per cent of all res­i­dents of Bri­tish Columbia over the age of 12 had ex­er­cised for at least 150 min­utes ev­ery week. This is a sig­nif­i­cant pos­i­tive de­vi­a­tion from the Cana­dian av­er­age of 57.4 per cent.

In the sur­vey, we also found out that two in five Bri­tish Columbians (41 per cent) cur­rently use an ac­tiv­ity tracker. These de­vices can mon­i­tor spe­cific fit­ness-re­lated met­rics, in­clud­ing dis­tance walked, amount of ex­er­cise and/ or calo­rie con­sump­tion. Ac­tiv­ity track­ers are de­cid­edly more pop­u­lar in Metro Van­cou­ver (47 per cent), among those aged 18 to 34 (also 47 per cent) and among women (45 per cent).

With a siz­able pro­por­tion of Bri­tish Columbians cur­rently re­ly­ing on ac­tiv­ity track­ers, it makes sense to find a way to bring the In­formed Din­ing pro­gram to as many restau­rants as pos­si­ble. Four in five res­i­dents have no prob­lem see­ing this in­for­ma­tion ev­ery­where, es­pe­cially if their oc­cu­pa­tion makes them more prone to eat out.

Yes, it can be quite daunt­ing to fig­ure out that your favourite meal or drink will set you back hun­dreds – or even thou­sands – of calo­ries. But there are many Bri­tish Columbians who are al­ready mak­ing the most of tech­nol­ogy to try to lead health­ier life­styles. Hav­ing more in­for­ma­tion at their dis­posal can only help.

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