New Ontario Fast Food Labels Could Mislead Women

Across Ontario, fast food restaurants will soon display the number of calories on each item they offer. This is set to come into effect January 1st, 2017, as part of an attempt to reduce rates of obesity. Although you may at first think that would be a positive, some believe it may lead to unhealthy choices.

Alongside the calorie-related content, it will also be mandatory to include a context statement. This is meant to help customers better understand how many calories they’re consuming in comparison to their daily recommended value — stating that adults need to consume between 2,000 and 2,400 calories daily.

So, what does this mean for public health? Could it cause more harm than good?

Misleading Calorie Statement Could Worsen Obesity

As stated by the executive director of the Centre for Health Science, the recommended daily calorie count is far too high. In reality, women between the ages of 31 and 50 years of age, with a low level of activity, should consume closer to 1,800 per day. In comparison, men should eat around 2,350 calories daily.

Experts and public health advocates are concerned that this new labeling system will fuel obesity. For those who truly pay attention to these recommendations, it could worsen the current obesity epidemic. These numbers may encourage individuals to consume more calories than they should, especially based on their individual level of activity.

A spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care — who are in charge of these label changes, said that these values were a result of reviews and consultations. Although it was said that the ministry will review the current comments, it wasn’t said whether or not the context statement will change.

Why Are Women At-Risk?

Of course, one’s specific caloric needs depend on a number of factors — age, sex, body mass, and  level of physical activity. In this scenario, if women were to consume an extra 600 calories per day, this would add up to a major difference. Even 200 calories extra daily can lead to weight gain, so imagine what three times that amount could do.

It’s been stated that the majority of individuals who do read nutrition labels are women. Just this month, a number of organizations, including Dietitians of Canada and the Ontario Public Health Association, stated the proposed calorie intake would not enhance consumers’ ability to make more informed choices.

First, it’s believed that a ‘range’ is too confusing — and second, as mentioned, the proposed range is too high. They recommend Ontario restaurants use 2,000 calories within their context statement and reconsider sodium. At this time, sodium levels will be kept off of menu labels, something in which these organizations say the government should reconsider.

Is This An Outdated System?

Counting calories is something that’s in many ways, outdated. Eating healthy and following a balanced lifestyle is much more complex than the number of calories you consume. For example, it’s been traditionally stated that when an individual eats an extra 500 calories per day, they will gain a pound each week.

As we now know, everyone’s calorie needs differ, so this statement isn’t very accurate. As you can imagine, an athlete’s needs will be much different than someone who sits at a desk 40-hours a week.   It’s important to know your own body and make changes depending on your health and fitness goals.

The public needs to focus more on what they’re eating, not just how much. Of course, it will be no surprise that a Big Mac, fries, and large soda will yield an immense amount of calories, but if someone sees that a salad at a fast-food restaurant is 1,800 calories, they may begin to rethink their choices — which is one potential benefit.

Overall, experts agree that available calorie and even sodium information won’t likely make a big difference. Instead, funding needs to go into better health education so that people can make more informed decisions. Even though programs like this are continually funded, sometimes, it appears as though we’re not really moving forward.

If you have any questions or concerns about your current diet, please visit the Dietitians of Canada to benefit from the latest research and resources.

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