Leah Myers
The Navigator

Leah_head_webAccording to a Globe and Mail article, the Ontario Liberals are to propose a law where chain restaurants must post calorie counts, to allegedly help “curb childhood obesity.” In this effort, the government hopes to reduce health care costs going towards diet-related illness. Despite the comments under the Globe article that claim the proposed venture is a waste of time and a diversion from other pressing issues, I definitely think, tax dollars aside (if I dare say “tax dollars aside”) the concept of the proposal itself is one worth exploring.

As one comment pointed out, this proposal targets large chain restaurants, most of which already have fairly extensive nutritional information available online. So what’s the difference within the proposal? From what I can gather, the suggestion is to post caloric and other nutritional information on the menu boards that you order from in fast food chains, and printed within the menus of sit-down restaurants—so instead of needing to research this information on your own time, it’s right in your face during the time of purchase.

Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure that nutrition in the human body is a very vast landscape to cover, and calorie counting is a very black-and-white approach of making dietary choices. Sure, you can acknowledge the copious amounts of sugar in a regular soft drink, and as a result choose a sugar-free beverage instead. But then your diet cola is artificially sweetened, probably by the lab-created sweetener aspartame. Also, what about “good” calorie intake and “bad” calorie intake? For example, an avocado and a Wendy’s Jr. Frosty both have approximately 160 calories, even though their nutrition values vary largely. Another dreaded food debate is margarine vs. butter. Butters are high in saturated fat, but margarines can be high in trans fats.

So, while posting caloric and nutrition information on boards at fast-food restaurants is an interesting idea, I’d argue that it’s a bit simplistic for a consumer who is trying to make educated food choices.

I’ve never personally counted calories—although I do try to count the number of ingredients listed on packaged foods, and how many syllables the ingredient contains and if I’m able to pronounce it. I’ve always found it fascinating that many people are more concerned about the amount of calories in food than they are about where those calories are coming from, but maybe that’s just me.

Last year, the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) proposed the use of warning labels on products considered to be junk food. The labels are comparable to the warning labels on cigarette packages, with a graphic and written warning of potential health effects associated with the product.

The National Post reported: “Ontario doctors have launched an assault on obesity, saying society should aggressively fight the epidemic using the tools that have made major inroads in the battle against smoking. The campaign calls for graphic warnings—like the ones tobacco companies must print on cigarette packages—on high-calorie, low-nutritional value foods such as sugar-sweetened soft drinks, french fries, and even fruit juices.”

The article featured pictures of what the proposed obesity warning labels might look like. One OMA warning had a graphic of a pizza box and a picture of a diseased liver with the following text “WARNING Excess consumption of this product contributes to obesity and resulting Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease.” Another graphic was on a can of pop and displayed a picture of a foot with stomach-churning sores, and the message read “WARNING! Excess consumption of sugary drinks contributes to obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and related complications.”

While an interesting tactic to address obesity concerns, the article  said that many food and drink manufacturer representatives denounced the comparison of junk food to tobacco. It was pointed out that regarding a healthy lifestyle, there isn’t really any safe consumption of cigarette smoking, meanwhile, food is a different story. Should there be graphic warnings of diabetes related illness stamped on top of the pumpkin pie you bought for holidays? Or would we start making our pies instead, to avoid having to look at the image? Would we send our child to school, and pack in her lunch a juice-box adorning a grueling heart disease graphic? Or would we send her with another beverage alternative?

Obviously, these adverts are aimed to sway parents against buying junk food for their children, yet I can’t help but think about all the poor little girls and boys opening their lunch boxes to find horrifying images on their favourite recess snacks. Maybe after enough scare tactics, children really will be begging their parents to fill their lunch packs with apples instead—and maybe that’s the point.