Tracking kilojoule content in Australian fast foods

Lyndal Wellard-Cole

Lyndal Wellard-Cole

Cancer Council NSWFunding duration: 2015 - 2018

An Australian-first study led by Cancer Council NSW has revealed that, despite rising obesity rates, the kilojoule content of foods at some of the nation’s biggest fast food chains hasn’t changed since compulsory labelling was introduced.


Menu labelling legislation was introduced in NSW in 2012 to help reduce the impact of fast food on population health by providing people with clear information so they can make healthier choices based on the energy (kilojoules) in their food. The legislation, which has since been adopted in four other states and territories, requires any fast-food restaurant with 20 or more stores across NSW or 50 or more nationally to show kilojoule information on menu boards and displays in their restaurants. In this study, the researchers set out to determine what impact, if any, the legislation has had on the kilojoule content of Australian fast foods.

The research

The team looked at the energy content of foods at Hungry Jack’s, KFC, McDonald’s, Oporto and Red Rooster restaurants across a 7-year period. The kilojoule content of all menu items were recorded every year, both prior to and after the introduction of the NSW fast-food menu labelling legislation.

Tracking these fast-food outlets, it was found that overall, there has been no significant or systematic reduction in kilojoule content since the introduction of menu labelling. It was hoped that fast-food chains would see enforced menu labelling as an incentive to reformulate menu items across their product range and introduce new healthier items to provide healthier options. This has the potential to significantly improve fast food consumer’s energy intake across the population. Disappointingly, this study shows Australian fast foods are just as unhealthy as they were before the introduction of menu labelling.

The impact

Poor eating habits are strongly linked to weight gain, which increases the risk of 12 cancers. Menu labelling is a strategy to empower people to make healthier fast food choices. While there is evidence to suggest customers are opting for lower kilojoule options, the government and the fast food industry should be actively working to adopt reformulation targets and adjusting their menus to provide overall healthier options to their customers.

Lead ResearcherResearch Team

Lyndal Wellard-Cole
Cancer Council NSW

David Goldsbury
Michelle Havill
Clare Hughes
Wendy Watson
Elizabeth Dunford
Kathy Chapman

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