As previously reported in Croakey below, there is a weight-busting move afoot in the US to introduce calorie-counting menus in chain restaurants. These have been in place in New York City since last year but may be more widely introduced.

Would such a move be useful and welcomed in Australia? Read on…

Associate Professor Tim Gill, Institute of Obesity, Nutrition and Exercise, University of Sydney:

“Requiring calories counts to be placed on menu boards in restaurant chains is a good thing but as Jane Martin points out, it is unlikely to have a profound effect on food choice by itself.

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It is akin to putting up speed advisory signs at dangerous bends in the road. They are useful if you understand and are accepting of the benefits of such advice; recognise your own limitations and the need to be cautious of road conditions; are not distracted by other issues and thus fail to acknowledge such advisory signs; or over-ride the advice because of your perceived lack of time to slow down.

Unfortunately with both calorie counts and speed advisory signs they are often ignored.

This is not a reason to avoid instituting such measures because they will be of benefit to those who are in a receptive state and can effectively process and act on the information.

Rather it is a reminder that such measures need to be instituted in combination with a variety of other strategies to encourage and support people to be more receptive to these signals.

Of course the preferred method of dealing with dangerous bends in the road is not to encourage people to slow down but rather to take that responsibility away from them by remaking the road at great expense to remove the bend.

Funny, no one ever suggests that this is a nanny-state approach to road safety.”


David Gillespie, author of Sweet Poison, Why Sugar Makes us Fat:

“Would you feed your kids a glass of milk or a glass of Coke for breakfast?  Yep, I’d go with the milk too.

How about if you know that the milk has 168 Calories but the Coke has only 108.  Would you switch to the Coke then?  No? You’ve just explained to yourself why Calorie labelling is a pointless waste of time.

You’ve also explained to yourself why Big Sugar is particularly keen on Calorie labelling.  They know a few things which most nutritionist have either forgotten or didn’t know in the first place.

Fat serves up 9 Calories per gram whereas everything else (including sugar) is only 4 Calories.  Calorie labelling is therefore really just fat labelling by another name.  The reason the milk has more Calories than the coke is because it contains fat and the Coke doesn’t.

The study referred to by Dr Russell tells us that it doesn’t really matter anyway.  Just over a quarter of the respondents noticed the Calorie information and it didn’t influence their choices anyway.

Big Sugar knows that no-one knows or cares what a Calorie label means and even if they did, sugary products would come out looking good by comparison.  Do we really want people being steered towards high sugar, low fat foods by Calorie labels?

Ignorance of the number of Calories in food has nothing to do with why we are all fat. We are fat because our food supply is laced with sugar.  Sugar has been proven to significantly interfere with our body’s internal Calorie counter (by making us resistant to the hormones which tell us when are full).

When our appetite control system is working, we eat exactly the number of Calories we need.  If they come from fat, we eat less of everything else.  If they come from protein or carbohydrate, we eat more.

We are fat because our fuel gauge is broken.  We are not fat because we don’t know how much fat is in what we are eating.  We don’t need Calorie counts on menus, we need our built in Calorie counters to start working again.  And the way to do that is eliminate sugar from the food supply.

But don’t fret too much about lobbying for Calorie counts, Big Sugar will implement them voluntarily soon enough.”


Stephen Leeder,  Professor of Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of Sydney and Director of the Menzies Centre for Health Policy:

“My personal view is that the more nutritional information that consumers can be given access to, the better.  The work that Tom Friedan, former chief health officer of New York City and now boss of CDC, in getting restaurants to label their menus is part of a larger enterprise to raise community and commercial awareness of nutritional responsibility. He did the same with tobacco control to good effect.

People DO take an interest in food labelling. Come with me one weekend to Coles in Katoomba – hardly the socioeconomic pinnacle of NSW society – and observe how often customers stop and read and compare food labels.

Many would argue, with evidence, that colour coding of foods with red, orange and green to indicate the safety levels of key components such as saturated fat, calorie density and whatever else.

The food industry presents elaborate objections to the ‘traffic light’ labelling. But in the meantime, until this is resolved, clear nutritional labelling makes sense. I think one of the craziest moves ever was the move away from the calorie, which many people understood, to kilojoules, which people don’t understand.

Food labelling is very political and much engagement with the food industry by action oriented politicians (and not all are) makes great sense.”


Boyd Swinburn, Professor of Population Health, and Director, WHO Collaborating Center for Obesity Prevention Deakin University:

“I am just travelling at the moment but have discussed this people here in the US.  It started in New York City where to got in regulations to include the calorie content next to the price on the menu boards of chain restaurants.  They also had an anchor that about 2000 kcal is what was needed for a typical day for a typical adult.

Several other cities/states started following suit and expending the provisions. The industry could foresee an escalating situation and called for federal regulations which require the calorie information but prevent local authorities for pushing it further.

I definitely think the Australia should follow suit and all the arguments that it is not possible have evaporated. Our use of kJ will add complexity however.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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