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Christine Richmond

Cancer Council NSW calls for mandatory nutritional labelling at fast food outlets

Our nation’s Macca’s habit is growing, according to a new report. Australians are spending 50 per cent more on fast food and eating out than we were just six years ago – we’re now forking over about 28 percent of our household food budget on the stuff, according to the Cancer Council NSW’s new 25-page report “Fast Food: Exposing the Truth.”

Why does the Cancer Council care about fast food? The report comes at a time when more than half of Australian adults and nearly one in four children are overweight or obese.

And carrying extra weight ups your risk of cancers of the bowel, kidney, pancreas, oesophagus, endometrium and breast.

The report argues that nutrition labeling should be mandatory and consistent nationwide, and that menu items should be reformulated to be lower in salt, fat, sugar and kilojoules.

(Gross but true: The average fast food meal provides 47 percent of your daily kilojoule needs.)

The Cancer Council wants to see the Federal Government get involved to make sure these changes are implemented.

Here’s what else the report uncovered:

Looking for nutrition information? Good luck. A Cancer Council survey of 222 fast food stores (including McDonald’s, KFC, Hungry Jack’s, Red Rooster and Subway) found that 34 per cent had no nutrition information available to customers. And only one store had info for every item on the menu.

The highest energy children’s meal had nearly six times more energy than the lowest energy children’s meal.

When healthier options like salads are available, we’re not buying ‘em. The Cancer Council tracked fast food purchases at McDonald’s and found that only 1 per cent came from the healthy menu.

What’s more, research has shown that having healthier menu options can actually boost sales of unhealthy foods. (One explanation: We reward ourselves for eating the salad by ordering dessert.) This is why reformulating menu items so they’re lower in fat, sugar, salt and energy is so important, says the Cancer Council.

Recommendations from Cancer Council NSW

1. The Federal Government should introduce mandatory menu labelling in-store in fast food chains, nationwide.

2. In the absence of nationwide mandatory menu labelling, the fast food industry should ensure that complete nutrition information is always available in-store.

3. Fast food chains should ensure that staff receive training on the provision of nutrition information to customers.

4. The fast food industry should reformulate their menu items to reduce the amount of energy, saturated fat, sugar and sodium.

5. The QSRI Initiative’s nutrient criteria should be revised to ensure that children’s fast food meals do not exceed 30% of children’s daily needs.

6. The Food and Health Dialogue should set targets for voluntary reformulation of fast foods, and move towards mandatory reductions.

7. The fast food industry should promote their healthier menu items in preference to their unhealthy menu items.