Australians are spending increasing proportions of household expenditure on fast food and eating out. These foods are linked to weight gain because they are often high in energy, added sugars, saturated fat and sodium.
Providing energy values (kilojoules) on fast food menus can reduce the impact of fast food on people’s diets.
In NSW it is law for fast food chains to put the kilojoule content of foods on their menu board. Under the legislation, the kilojoule content of menu items (per serve) must be displayed on menus, along with the reference statement ‘the average adult daily energy intake is 8700kJ’. This is mandatory in all food businesses selling ready-to-eat food that have more than 20 stores in NSW or more than 50 stores in Australia.
The chief objective of fast food kilojoule menu labelling is to provide customers with information to increase their knowledge and encourage them to purchase healthier meals.
Another potential benefit of menu labelling is to motivate fast food chains to improve the healthiness of their menus by removing unhealthy items, adding healthy options and reformulating products to reduce the amount of energy, sodium, saturated fat and/or sugars.
We have been researching and advocating for many years for stronger regulation in both fast food marketing and menu labelling. Investigating and publishing on different aspects of the eating out environment allows us to recommend ways that the fast food environment can be improved to promote health.
We partnered in a research project investigating young adult’s foods away from home, and the factors that influence their consumption.
Actions to support a healthier eating out environment include:
- Improvements to mandatory kilojoule (energy) menu labelling to ensure it is available for all menu items and combinations, legible and accessible to all customers,
- Large fast food chains reformulate their menu items and menus to make them lower in energy, saturated fat, sugars and/or sodium,
- Marketing and promotion of fast foods should be subject to the same comprehensive government regulation to protect children from exposure to unhealthy food marketing, particularly online and on television before 9:30 pm.
- The association of social and food preparation location context with the quality of meals and snacks consumed by young adults: findings from the MYMeals wearable camera study
- The Contribution of Foods Prepared Outside the Home to the Diets of 18- to 30-Year-Old Australians: The MYMeals Study
- Contribution of foods prepared away from home to intakes of energy and nutrients of public health concern in adults: a systematic review
- The role of supportive food environments to enable healthier choices when eating meals prepared outside the home: findings from focus groups of 18-30 year olds
- Nutrition composition of Australian fast food and fast casual children’s meals available in 2016 and changes in fast food meals between 2010 and 2016