Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Information on nutrition scarce at fast-food counters

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Less than 1 per cent of nutritional information provided by fast food chains is available when people buy their food, a study has found.

Auckland University researchers found 92 per cent of fast food chain restaurants had nutritional information available - but less than 1 per cent was at point of purchase.

Another 64 per cent was listed on websites, and 25 per cent was printed on packaging or tray liners and serviettes.

Fight the Obesity Epidemic director Dr Robyn Toomath said the findings suggested the industry wasn't serious about customers' health.

Putting nutritional information on a website was akin to moving all store and product branding a few kilometres down the road, Dr Toomath said.

"Just as the makers of the fast food industry wouldn't be happy with that ... nor would we want to have the information that helps with making a decision appear somewhere removed."

The Auckland University study, published in the online journal Appetite, surveyed 12 fast food chains of the 20 or more in New Zealand.

It was in part done to provide context to a review of food labelling by the New Zealand and Australian governments.

A transtasman review published in January recommended introduction of a front-of-pack nutrition labelling scheme using "traffic light" symbols.

The review also recommended fast food chains be encouraged to put the traffic light system on menus in their stores.

The transtasman council of state and national food ministers is considering the recommendations, and decisions are expected next month.

In Britain, a government-led programme hopes to have more than 5000 food outlets list calorie counts at the point of sale by next year.

More than 1000 British McDonald's restaurants have begun listing calories on menus.

A spokesman for McDonald's New Zealand said the restaurant chain was waiting for the outcome of the food labelling review.

"Customer feedback has shown that most customers who want to know key nutritional details will have researched this information before going to the restaurant.

"There is conflicting international research about whether menu boards showing nutritional information make any real difference in influencing customers' food choices."

KFC general manager Brent Kitto said brochures with nutritional information had been displayed close to restaurant counters for about eight years.

A Burger King New Zealand spokeswoman said the chain was in the process of printing a new leaflet with detailed nutritional information which will be displayed on store counters.

She also pointed to the lack of evidence that putting nutritional information on menu boards altered diners' choices.

But Dr Toomath - a diabetes and obesity expert - said a traffic light system could have as much influence on the industry as on eating habits.

The prospect of a menu board filled with red symbols might prompt fast food makers to make some of their products more healthy.

BETTER CHOICES
* The system uses coloured dots to indicate levels of total fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt in a product.
* Green indicates a healthy choice.
* Orange indicates a neutral choice.
* Red indicates an unhealthy option.

- NZ Herald

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