Aussie fast food just as unhealthy after introduction of menu labelling: new research

An Australian-first study by Cancer Council NSW has revealed that kilojoule content in foods from some of Australia’s top fast food chains have remained the same since menu labelling became compulsory in 2012, despite rising obesity rates. 

The study conducted by Cancer Council NSW and The George Institute for Global Health looked at the energy content of foods at Hungry Jack’s, KFC, McDonald’s, Oporto and Red Rooster restaurants across a 7-year period, recording the kilojoules of menu items every year, both before and after the introduction of the NSW fast food menu labelling legislation. 

“We found that overall, there was no significant or systematic reduction in kilojoule content since the introduction of menu labelling,” says Clare Hughes, Nutrition Program Manager at Cancer Council NSW. 

“Reformulation has the potential to significantly improve fast food consumers’ energy intake. Yet fast food chains have not seen menu labelling as an incentive to reformulate.” 

Menu labelling, introduced in NSW in 2012 and since adopted in four other states and territories, means that any fast food restaurant with 20 or more stores across the state or 50 or more nationally has to show kilojoule information on menus and displays in their restaurants. It was introduced to reduce the impact of fast food on population health by providing people with clear information so they can make healthier choices based on the kilojoules in their food. 

“In addition to providing customers with information to make healthier choices, we expected menu labelling to drive fast food chains to improve the healthiness of menus by removing particularly unhealthy items, adding healthier options, reducing portion sizes or reformulating foods (improving levels of fat and sugar) to reduce kilojoule content,” Ms Hughes added. 

Evidence shows that since the introduction of menu labelling in 2012, customers were opting for lower kilojoule options. 

“Given that we’ve seen that menu labelling is successful in helping people make healthier choices, we now call on government to work with the fast food industry to rethink their menus and set reformulation targets, to ultimately provide healthier options for their customers,” Ms Hughes concluded.