Calls for national fast-food nutrition plan

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 16th November 2010

photofries-crop.jpgQueensland Deputy Premier and Minister for Health Paul Lucas tabled an agenda paper at a Ministerial Meeting in Adelaide on Friday, calling for a nationally consistent plan for reducing intakes of energy, saturated fat, sugar and salt from fast food.

Lucas said it was time to get serious about developing a national approach to the issue.

“In 2009, 1.6 billion meals were served by fast food outlets in Australia. Alarmingly, that means 4.5 million Australians visited a fast food outlet every day,” he said.

“The high intake of energy-dense foods and drinks from fast food outlets are undoubtedly contributing to the high levels of obesity in Australia. In 1980, eight per cent of Australian’s were considered obese, today it’s 25 per cent.”

“This is a discussion that we need to have at a national level.”

Options proposed in the paper include regulating the energy, saturated fat, salt and sugar content of fast food, implementing mandatory Nutrition Information Panels on fast food product packaging, and the development of a nationally consistent approach to require fast food outlets across Australia to provide energy and nutrient information on their menu boards.

“Nutritional information being provided at the point of sale in fast food chain outlets just makes good sense,” Lucas said. “People need to be empowered to make informed decisions when purchasing fast food.”

Cameron Prout, CEO of the Heart Foundation said that it was important that the foodservice industry in Australia be required to provide nutrition information on menu boards, which will help people make a better decision at the time of purchase.

“Providing nutrition information via company websites, in-store pamphlets and on product packaging is not sufficient. Evidence suggests that people are more likely to notice nutrition information if it is on the menu or menu board and visible when they are buying their meals.

“Clearly, the greatest health benefit of nutrition labelling occurs when consumers switch to lower energy, low saturated fat and low salt foods.

“And being transparent about nutritional information will encourage fast food outlets to improve the nutritional profile of their foods, which is a vital ingredient to improving the food supply and reducing the burden of chronic disease,” Prout said.

“Overweight and obesity are significant risk factors for cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritic diseases, cancer and type 2 diabetes. For example, people who are obese are over three times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, than those of healthy weight,” said Lucas.

“But it’s not just about being overweight or obese: too many Australians have a very poor diet that is energy dense but significantly lacking in nutrition.

According to the World Health Organisation, there is solid evidence to link poor diet to chronic disease.

“It is absolutely critical to the health of Australians that we make real inroads in reducing the amount of energy, saturated fat, salt and sugar in our diets,” said Lucas.