Three-quarters of British Columbians support mandatory calorie counts on menus – Writer’s Bloc

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on how British Columbians eat. In 2020, we saw a significant increase in food delivery after restaurants were forced to adapt to changing dynamics. Even groceries have made their way to our homes, severely limiting our ability to personally choose what to buy.

Now that restaurants are open again and residents across the province are ready to eat out, Research Co. and Glacier Media have reviewed our relationship with nutrition. The results show an audience that may be increasingly aware of what to buy in the supermarket, but an inability to maintain the same procedures when someone else is preparing the food we eat.

Provincially, more than a third of British Columbians (37%) say they “frequently” check labels to verify the nutritional content of products when buying groceries for themselves or for other members of their household. Women are more likely to belong to this group (40%) than men (33%).

Our ability to analyze harmonized labels is an important factor in this level of awareness among British Columbians. We can spend a lot of time looking at the nutritional content of breakfast cereals or tubs of ice cream, and come out ready to make a decision on the spot.

Restaurants currently do not have the same standards that we enjoy in grocery stores. From 2012 to 2020, the province had a voluntary Informed Dining database for commercial catering businesses. Currently, few places display nutrition facts on menus or websites. It’s no surprise that only 14% of British Columbians say they “frequently” check menus when dining out to review the nutritional content of specific dishes.

There is an even more pronounced drop when British Columbians are asked about their behavior when ordering food delivery. Only 11% consult menus or apps to review nutritional content, with the proportion falling to just 6% among people aged 55 and over.

Our tendency to turn away from knowing more about the foods we eat if we are not the one preparing them is also present in other articles. While 29% of British Columbians “frequently” check the total calorie count of products they buy at the grocery store, the proportions drop dramatically for restaurant menus (14%) and food delivery (11%) .

A similar decrease is observed for two other components: sodium (from 32% at the grocery store, to 14% at the restaurant and to 10% in food delivery) and fat (from 29% at the grocery store, to 13 % percent in restaurants and 11 percent in food delivery).

Many factors contribute to explain these fluctuations. For some British Columbians, eating out or ordering in is a chance to get away from it all. They may not want to be deterred or demoralized by discovering the calorie content of the cheeseburger they crave after a long day at work. However, the lack of standards for restaurants and apps is also an issue.

A quick look at some of the apps reveals a significant difference. For companies that also have operations in Ontario, nutrition information is readily available. BC-based businesses don’t meet these requirements, let alone now that Informed Dining has been summarily discontinued.

In Ontario, it is mandatory to display calories on any menu that lists or describes standard foods offered for sale by a regulated food service establishment. Three in four British Columbians (76%) support implementing a similar regulation in their province, while only 13% oppose it.

The grocery stores that already provide this information in British Columbia are those that operate in Ontario. It’s easier for companies like Starbucks and McDonald’s to rely on the same billboards and software they already use in the most populous province. Other companies have been slow to respond.

The availability of this information matters more today than four years ago. The proportion of British Columbians who rely on an activity tracker to monitor fitness-related metrics – such as distance traveled, exercise and/or calorie burn – has fallen from 41% in 2018 to 45 % in 2022.

There is growth across all three age groups, with the majority of British Columbians aged 18-34 (53%, up six points) now relying on activity trackers. The numbers are also up among their counterparts aged 35-54 (47%, up six points) and 55+ (36%, up six points). It is clear that more and more residents of the province are paying attention to these parameters. It is time for the provincial government to think seriously about what is now mandatory in Ontario.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

The findings are based on an online survey conducted July 4-6, 2022 among 800 adults in British Columbia. The data was statistically weighted according to Canadian census counts for age, gender and region in Canada. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.