New labelling research – fast food chains fudge the facts

7 out of 9 Victorian major fast food chains don’t provide kilojoule information

Released today, an investigation has found that only two in nine of Victoria’s major fast food chains supply enough nutritional information to allow consumers to make informed choices about what they’re eating.

The Cancer Council Victoria and Heart Foundation survey found that the majority of stores surveyed were denying consumers basic nutrition information about their products at the point of sale by not including the amount of kilojoules on all products on their menu boards or by purposely obscuring the information, making it small, hard to read and difficult to find.

According to Craig Sinclair, Head of Prevention at Cancer Council Victoria: “In Victoria you need bionic eyesight and Sherlock Holmes’ detective skills to find out how many kilojoules are hidden in the burgers, donuts, pizzas and chips we’re consuming.

“Whereas, over the border in New South Wales, there are regulations that provide clear guidelines on how this information should be provided.    This form of labelling together with an education campaign has been shown to be effective, with consumers choosing meals that are 15% lower in kilojoules than prior to the implementation of the system[1].

“The Victorian fast food outlets surveyed also operate in New South Wales where they are subject to this regulation; one wonders why the industry chooses to deny Victorians the same access to what should be basic nutrition information,” said Mr Sinclair.   

Cancer Council Victoria and the Heart Foundation surveyed the point of purchase kilojoule menu labelling practices at 59 fast food outlets, from nine fast food and snack chains across metropolitan and regional Victoria. The survey compared their labelling practices to the best practice guidelines implemented in New South Wales.

“Fast food is a major contributor to people’s intake of saturated fat, sugar, salt and energy, so it’s important that consumers are empowered with the full story about what they’re purchasing,” said Mr Sinclair.

“While no one would be surprised to find out these products are extremely energy dense, many would be shocked to learn that KFC’s Zinger Stacker Boxed Meal contains around two-thirds of your daily average intake of kilojoules, while McCafe banana bread at 2570kJ per serve is just under a third of the recommended amount.”

Credit: Stan Zemanek
Credit: Stan Zemanek

The investigation found:

  • Only two of the nine (22%) chains, Boost Juice and KFC, consistently displayed kilojoule information in line with the requirements in New South Wales, although all businesses surveyed had some kilojoule information in store.
  • Almost half of the 59 outlets (46%) did not have kilojoule information on all items for sale.
  • Almost one in five (19%) did not reference the average adult’s daily intake of kilojoules, as required in NSW, which allows customers to consider their choices in the context of their daily energy requirements.
  • Less than half (47%) met the New South Wales standards for font, size and position of the kilojoule information.
  • Less than three in four (73%) provided kilojoule information that was legible to consumers.
  • All chains provided kilojoule information on their website.

Kellie-Ann Jolly, Director Cardiovascular Health Programs at Heart Foundation Victoria, said: “The results of the investigation highlight why the Victorian Government should follow other Australian states and put in place a consistent and easily understood kilojoule menu labelling scheme across the state that will ultimately improve the health of Victorians.

“The success of the scheme in New South Wales shows that people will choose lower kilojoule options when they have the facts. With more than 2 million Victorians overweight or obese, here’s a relatively simple way to encourage people to make healthier choices,” Ms Jolly said.

Cancer Council Victoria and the Heart Foundation are calling on the State Government to introduce mandatory kilojoule menu labelling in Victoria to create a consistent, easily understood system. The legislation should apply to major fast food chains and to cafe, bakery, beverage and snack food chains with more than 20 outlets in the state or over 50 stores across the country.

“It’s also vital that there’s an education campaign to accompany the labelling changes to give consumers context around the number of kilojoules in a product so they can understand what’s high and low,” said Mr Sinclair.


About the investigation

Cancer Council Victoria and the Heart Foundation surveyed 59 fast food outlets, representing nine large fast food and snack chains, between July and August 2015 for availability of kilojoule information in store, in brochures and online.

The investigation included businesses that are required to comply with menu labelling legislation in New South Wales to find out if they offered the same nutritional information in their Victorian stores.

The survey was conducted in three metro and two regional locations; Melbourne City, Prahran, Campbellfield, Wallan and Shepparton.

The chains surveyed included:

  • Hungry Jack’s
  • KFC
  • McDonald’s
  • Nando’s
  • Pizza Hut
  • Red Rooster
  • Subway
  • Boost Juice
  • Donut King

 

The investigation checked the:

  • Display of kilojoule information for all items on the menu board
  • Correct size and font used in the kilojoule displays
  • Legibility of the displays
  • Display of kilojoule information on promotional posters (where relevant)
  • Reference statement ‘The average adult daily energy intake is 8700 kJ’ clearly displayed.

[1] NSW Food Authority July 2013 http://foodauthority.nsw.gov.au/_Documents/scienceandtechnical/fastchoices_evaluation_report.pdf

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