29 Jun, 2010 Last updated: 08 Dec, 2014

A bold plan to force fast food outlets to display nutritional information on point of sale menus in Victoria will revolutionise the way people choose food.

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A bold plan to force fast food outlets to display nutritional information on point of sale menus in Victoria will revolutionise the way people choose food, says VicHealth chief executive Todd Harper.

The plan will make it compulsory under legislation for fast food chains in Victoria with more than 200 outlets nationwide, or more than 50 in Victoria, to display a kilojoule (kJ) count next to all food and drink items on their menus by 2012.

This will help consumers understand the energy content of products and make informed choices when they are ordering fast food.

Today’s announcement follows a round table meeting between the Premier and representatives of the food industry and health organisations, including VicHealth, the Heart Foundation and the Obesity Policy Coalition.

A similar initiative introduced in New York in 2007 has been highly successful in encouraging New Yorkers to make healthier food choices at the time of purchase.

Mr Harper said VicHealth has campaigned for more transparency in the fast food industry for years.

“This Australia-first move will more than likely follow in other states and territories, in the same way that other American states followed New York’s lead,” he said. “I have no doubt it will be a popular initiative with consumers and hope that fast food outlets that fall under the threshold will voluntarily adopt it.

“The sharp rise in people who are overweight and obese over the past 15 to 20 years has occurred at a time when more and more people are consuming meals outside the home – with 45 per cent opting for fast food when they do eat out.

“Until now, the fast food companies have managed to keep kilojoule counters off their displays, but the time has come to put health first. Nutritional information on packaging in tiny print or buried on a website is not good enough. The information must be clear and prominent and the place where consumers need it most - on menus at the point of sale.

"This isn’t about telling people what they should or shouldn’t eat.  It’s about providing consumers with accurate information, so that they can make informed decisions about their health.

“Last week’s Australia’s Health 2010 report clearly shows that obesity as an impending health disaster, with type 2 diabetes predicted to overtake smoking as the leading risk factor for premature death. The time to act is now.”

According to the most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics causes of death data (2008), the average age of death for obesity-related deaths for men was 56.5 years and 64.6 years for women. Obesity cost Australia’s economy $58 billion in 2007.