Analee Gale

Fast food outlets not doing enough to curb obesity: Report

According to a recent study, our fast food outlets are not doing nearly enough heavy lifting to reverse our obesity crisis. 

 

 

When it comes to fast food, which brand do you think has the greatest concern regarding the health and nutrition to its patrons? Well, thanks to Deakin’s Global Obesity Centre, you can find out, because researchers have completed a first-of-its-kind evaluation of the nutrition policies held by Australia’s leading fast food outlets.

The Inside Our Quick Service Restaurants report provides a ranking of Australia’s eleven leading takeaway companies, based on their commitments and policies to address obesity and nutrition issues relevant to the population.

The report was collated using data compiled from publicly available information (collected up to December 2017), as well as policy information provided by individual company representatives. Interestingly, when approached by Deakin’s researchers, Subway and Nando’s were the only two brands open to sharing details about their internal nutrition policies. The data gathered was then analysed by using the “Business Impact Assessment – Obesity and population nutrition tool”, which had been developed by INFORMAS, a global network of public health researchers that monitors food environments worldwide.

The report indicated that Subway was the top-ranked takeaway brand, coming in at 48 out of 100, compared to Domino’s Pizza, which scored an abysmal three out of 100.

Associate Professor Gary Sacks was the lead author of the report. He indicated that takeaway food appears to no longer be the “occasional treat” it once was; instead, it appears to be a more frequent inclusion in the diets of everyday Aussies.

“Unhealthy diets are creating a public health crisis in Australia. Every part of our community, including the fast food sector, needs to do their part in making the healthy choice the easy choice for all Australians,” he explained. “The average Australian household spends almost 32% of its food budget on takeaway and eating out, and the average fast food meal provides up to half of an adult’s daily energy requirements.”


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This ground-breaking report, which recommended decreasing kilojoules in meal deals, and promoting water as the default beverage in children’s meal packages, follows on from research findings into supermarkets and food and beverage manufacturers, which was published earlier in the year.

This report indicated that when it comes to public acknowledgement of the nutrition and health content of their products, most brands offer only the bare minimum (and often mandatory) requirements, such as including product-specific nutrition information on websites, and kilojoule labelling on in-store menus.

Some fast food companies have taken to introducing healthy sides or healthier drink options as part of their meal deals, including kid’s meals, but most often the default option remains fried food and sugar-laden beverages.

“There’s a real opportunity for fast food companies to help address the problem, by introducing policies that make healthier choices, like water and fruit or salad, the automatic option for kids’ meals,” said Associate Professor Sacks.

He also said it was concerning to see fast food outlets’ heavy price promotions for products extremely high in salt, sugar and fat.

“The majority of items we see heavily promoted are unhealthy ones, like $1 frozen cokes, which clock in at more than 15 teaspoons of sugar, or two-for-one whoppers, which each contain a whopping 40 grams of fat,” he explained. “In contrast, healthier options are typically priced much higher and are rarely offered as part of special deals. It’s all about making the healthy option the easy option, and that means making it more affordable too.”

Inside our Quick Service Restaurants recommends priorities for takeaway food companies such as:

  • Set specific targets to decrease sugar, saturated fat and salt content in menu items, and decrease the portion size and kilojoule content of meals;
  • Commit to making default options more healthy by offering water, side salads or fresh fruit, particularly as part of children’s meals;
  • Decrease the amount of value meal deals and price discounts for the unhealthier options, and ensure healthier options are priced comparatively to the less healthy equivalents;
  • When large numbers of children are likely to be exposed, minimise the advertising of unhealthy products. This could be achieved by reducing sponsorship of community and sporting events where families congregate.

Of course, this report only considers commitments and company policies pertaining to six specific domains related to nutrition and obesity prevention: nutrition-labelling, promotion to children and adolescents, relationships with external groups, product accessibility, product formulation, and corporate strategy. It does not consider the nutritional content or healthiness of specific products.

 

Analee Gale

Analee Gale is the Food & Health Editor of TBS. Previous to that, she was a freelance writer and editor who has spent so many decades writing about being food and fitness that she sometimes forgets to actually be fit (though she never ever forgets to eat food - hangry is a thing, you know!). Analee made a tree-change from the northern beaches of Sydney, so she now taps out tales from her base in a tiny coastal town in East Gippsland, Victoria.

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