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Fast Food labelling changes food purchasing behaviours in young people

Fast Food labelling changes food purchasing behaviours in young people
May 15, 2015

Labelling fast food menus with kilojoule values can shave almost 1,000kJ from the average daily diet of university students, according to new Australian research.

The study, involving 713 University of Sydney students aged 19 to 24 years, looked at the effect of introducing energy (kilojoule) labelling and a social marketing campaign on fast food choices on campus.

Lead researcher Rajshri Roy presented the findings this week at the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) National Conference, being held in Perth from 13th to 16th May.

Roy, a Clinical Research Dietitian at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Allergy Unit and PhD Researcher at University of Sydney, explained that after kilojoule labelling was introduced, students who used the kilojoule values chose meals that were around 960kJ less than those who ignored the labelling.

Roy, an Accredited Practising Dietitian, stated “we also found a significant drop in sales of high-kilojoules foods, such as nachos and burgers.”

She said this included a 30% decrease in sales of a burger which provided 5,500kJ – or two thirds of the suggested average energy intake for adults of 8,700kJ a day.

Roy stated that the majority of students thought the social marketing campaign would not affect their food choices, but her study results show it had a major impact.

She added that a small serve of French fries or half a sausage roll each contain around 960kJ, and for people looking to lose weight, cutting out this many kilojoules each day over a year could result in a body fat loss of up to 9 kilograms.

According to Roy, few previous studies have looked at whether kilojoule labelling at the point of purchase in fast food outlets makes a difference in changing behaviour and reducing intake of kilojoule-rich foods.

She said the results should provide further impetus for fast food outlets to revamp their menus to lower the kilojoule content of food items, extend the range of healthy options on offer, provide healthy sides, such as salad instead of French fries, and rethink promotions that encourage upsizing.

Commenting on the research, DAA President Liz Kellett said the Association supports clear labelling that makes it easier for Australians to choose healthier foods.

Kellett concluded “cooking at home and taking food with you to work or university is the best approach. But when you do eat outside home, use the kilojoule displays to make smarter choices.”

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