Canadians spend around $60 billion annually on restaurant meals, which represents about 30% of their food budget. Since nutritional information on restaurant menus is extremely rare and often tucked away in hard to find places (online or in a book behind the counter somewhere that you need to ask to see), Canadians trying to decide what to eat at a restaurant are ordering blind from a nutritional perspective.
Now, the Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), along with more than a dozen Canadian health groups and experts, is calling for mandatory nutritional information on restaurant menus. They say that nutrition-related illnesses, like heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancers cost the Canadian economy between $7 billion and $30 billion and kill 48,000 Canadians every year and that this could be much reduced if Canadians had the information they needed to make better choices.
The CSPI report, Writing on the Wall, compared the two lowest-calorie and highest-calorie items in fourteen different food categories at a variety of chain restaurants in Canada and also looked at sodium levels. Some of the shocking findings include:
CPSI is calling on local, provincial and federal governments to make regulatory changes that would give consumers the information they need to make better nutritional choices. This includes:
They do, however, suggest that there be an exemption for small restaurants (less than $10 million in annual sales or fewer than 10 outlets) and for menu items that are on the menu for short periods of time (such as weekly specials), although they would still be encouraged to voluntarily provide nutritional information.
The proposal certainly is a positive one and would help those Canadians who eat a lot at large chains. But for consumers who prefer to support local small businesses, would this make any difference? There are a number of possible consequences for small restaurants and their patrons if this proposal moves ahead:
What do you think of the proposal? Is it a positive one? Should small businesses be required to participate too? Would having nutritional information influence your decision about where to eat and what to order?
Photo credit: dmott9 on flickr
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