In 2015, Ontario’s members of provincial parliament voted to pass the Healthy Menu Choices Act, 2015.
Under the Act's final regulations, which came into effect in January of this year, Ontario food service providers—such as restaurants, coffee shops, convenience stores, grocery stores and movie theatres with 20 or more locations—must include the number of calories for food and beverage items on their menus, tags, labels and advertisements.
Ontario is the first Canadian province to introduce caloric menu labelling for food and drink items. The Healthy Menu Choices Act
reflects a growing trend of requiring food service providers to present their customers with caloric and health information for their dietary choices. The new Act is also a component of Ontario's Healthy Kids Strategy, a government-led initiative to prevent and reduce childhood obesity.
The Act requires that food service providers post the caloric content of each of their standard food items on menus, which can include drive-through menus, online menus, advertisements and promotional flyers. The Act’s regulations specify where caloric information is to be displayed on the menus, as well as the size, format and prominence of the display.
As of 2018, the regulations will also require food service producers to include contextual statements with approximate calorie requirements for children, youth and adutls on every menu at food service premises in close proximity to standard food items.
The Nutrition Resource Centre at the Ontario Public Health Association, together with Dietitians of Canada
and the Ontario Society of Nutrition Professionals in Public Health
, provided recommendations to support the development of the Healthy Menu Choices Act, 2015
, particularly surrounding the contextual statements of caloric requirements for average adults, youth and children.
Best evidence available from research and other jurisdictions, as well as expert nutrition advice from dietitians working in the field of public and community health across the province, was used to provide specific feedback on the new legislation’s contextual statement.
The contextual statements are (until January 2018):
“The average adult requires approximately 2,000 to 2,400 calories per day; however, individual calorie needs may vary.”
And, beginning January 2018:
“Adults and youth (ages 13 and older) need an average of 2,000 calories a day, and children (ages 4 to 12) need an average of 1,500 calories a day. However, individual needs vary.”
The three organizations saw the contextual statement as a key piece of the legislation for helping consumers understand how the calories posted on menus apply to themselves and their family members.
Their recommendations also emphasized the need for public education around calorie labelling and the importance of evaluation to assess the impact of this legislation with respect to consumer behaviour and health impacts, as well as changes to menu offerings and the food environment.
Collaborative efforts by registered dietitian associations are an effective way to influence the development of healthy eating policies and programs—and the Nutrition Resource Centre has been proud to play a coordinating role," says Lynn Roblin, Senior Policy Consultant at the NRC.
“By requiring restaurants and other food service chains to post calorie information publicly, we are helping people in Ontario make informed, healthy decisions for themselves and their families,” said Ontario’s Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Eric Hoskins in a December 2016 press release