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Prevention: Food labelling

Kilojoule labelling in fast food outlets

Last updated 06-06-2019

Kilojoule labelling schemes have been introduced across various states and territories in Australia. There is evidence that such schemes result in consumers selecting meals with fewer kilojoules, with the effect greatest for people who are overweight. A review is currently underway into the effectiveness of menu labelling schemes in Australian jurisdictions, with various improvements being sought.

Key Evidence

01

NSW was the first Australian jurisdiction to introduce kilojoule labelling for fast food outlets

02

The effects of kilojoule labelling schemes strengthen over time

03

Schemes need to keep up with technology and trends such as digital menus and third-party delivery providers

Requiring fast food chains to declare the kilojoule content of standard products on menus was a recommendation of the Australian Government’s Labelling Logic Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy in 2011.1 A meta-analysis published in 2017 found that consumers selected meals with fewer kilojoules as a result of menu labelling, and the effect was greatest for people who were overweight. Kilojoule labelling on restaurant menus had the additional effect of encouraging retailers to lower the amount of energy in menu items.2

Kilojoule labelling at Hungry Jacks

To facilitate consistency across Australia, in 2011 the Food Regulation Standing Committee (a sub-committee of the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation) provided technical advice for jurisdictions opting to introduce menu labelling legislation.3 Menu labelling schemes have now been introduced in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory,3 and a scheme is under consideration in Western Australia.4 Assessments by smaller jurisdictions including Tasmania and the Northern Territory determined that legislation would capture few additional businesses, because national chains had largely chosen to implement menu labelling across all their Australian outlets as a result of legislation in other states.3

The Food Regulation Standing Committee is currently reviewing the effectiveness of menu labelling schemes in Australian jurisdictions, and considering implementation and emerging issues. In particular, the committee’s review will focus on areas of inconsistency in legislation between jurisdictions; how menu labelling can be applied to changing trends in the fast food industry; and whether additional and interpretive information could aid consumer understanding.3 The committee has consulted with food industry, public health, consumer and government stakeholders, and the results are being considered by the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation and the Council of Australian Governments.5

In their submissions to the review, public health groups have called for improvements to menu labelling schemes across Australia including:

  • Removing exemptions for particular businesses such as supermarkets, convenience stores and cinemas6 (exemptions vary between jurisdictions – for details see table 1 in consultation paper)3
  • Closing gaps in coverage, for example by lowering the threshold for compliance to chain restaurants with 10 outlets within a state and 50 outlets nationally; and extending labelling requirements to airlines and vending machines7
  • Keeping up with technology and trends including a requirement for kilojoule information to be displayed with the name and price of the item at point of purchase across all platforms, including digital ‘rolling’ menus in stores, online menus8 and through third-party delivery providers6 such as Deliveroo or UberEats7
  • Legibility requirements so that kilojoule information is displayed in the same font, size and colour as the name and price of the item6
  • Education to increase consumer understanding of kilojoules in the context of the recommended daily energy intake8

New South Wales was the first jurisdiction in Australia to introduce kilojoule labelling legislation for fast food outlets in 2010.5 An evaluation of the legislation in NSW showed that menu labelling improved consumers’ understanding of average daily energy intake and led to a significant reduction in the median number of kilojoules purchased.9

There is evidence that the effects of menu labelling strengthen over time with repeated consumer exposure,10 highlighting the importance of ongoing evaluation efforts in NSW and other jurisdictions.5 While menu labelling also has the potential to encourage retailers to reformulate to lower the amount of energy in menu items,2 a NSW study found no significant or systematic decreases in the energy content of menu items at five fast food chains since its introduction in that state in 2012.11

References

1. Blewett N, Goddard N, Pettigrew S, Reynolds C, and Yeatman H. Labelling logic – the final report of the review of food labelling law and policy. Canberra, Australia 2011. Available from: http://webarchive.nla.gov.au/gov/20170215181007
2. Zlatevska N, Neumann N, and Dubelaar C. Mandatory Calorie Disclosure: A Comprehensive Analysis of Its Effect on Consumers and Retailers. Journal of Retailing, 2018; 94(1):89-101
3. Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation. Consultation paper: Review of fast food menu labelling schemes. Canberra, Australia 2018. Available from: http://foodregulation.gov.au/internet/fr/publishing.nsf/Content/7907D41C6C0BC1E0CA2582280023E04D/$File/CPRFFMLS.pdf
4. Staff reporters. WA's fast food industry could be forced to list dietary information on menus. WA Today, 2018. Available from: https://www.watoday.com.au
5. Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation. Review of fast food menu labelling schemes. 2018. Available from: http://foodregulation.gov.au
6. Public Health Association of Australia. Submission on the review of fast food menu labelling schemes. 2018. Available from: https://www.phaa.net.au/documents/item/2688
7. Obesity Policy Coalition. Submission on the review of fast food labelling schemes consultation paper. 2018. Available from: http://www.opc.org.au
8. Australian Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance. Submission to review of fast food menu labelling schemes. 2018. Available from: https://docs.wixstatic.com/
9. NSW Government Food Authority. Evaluation of kilojoule menu labelling. 2013. Available from: http://www.foodauthority.nsw.gov.au/
10. Littlewood JA, Lourenço S, Iversen CL, and Hansen GL. Menu labelling is effective in reducing energy ordered and consumed: a systematic review and meta-analysis of recent studies. Public Health Nutrition, 2016; 19(12):2106-2121.
11. Wellard-Cole L, Goldsbury D, Havill M, Hughes C, Watson WL, et al. Monitoring the changes to the nutrient composition of fast foods following the introduction of menu labelling in New South Wales, Australia: an observational study. Public Health Nutrition, 2018; 21(6):1194-1199.