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A quarter of Australian children are overweight or obese. Research conducted in 2010 found that fast-food children’s meals were energy-dense and nutrient-poor. Since then, menu labelling and self-regulation of marketing have been introduced in Australia. The present study aimed to: (i) investigate the nutrient composition of children’s meals offered at fast-food chains; (ii) compare these with children’s daily requirements and recommendations and the food industry’s own criteria for healthier children’s meals; and (iii) determine whether results have changed since last investigated in 2010.
An audit of nutrition information for fast-food children’s meals was conducted. Meals were compared with 30 % (recommended contribution for a meal) and 100 % of children’s daily recommendations and requirements. A comparative analysis was conducted to determine if the proportion of meals that exceeded meal requirements and recommendations, and compliance with the food industry’s own criteria, changed between 2010 and 2016.
Large Australian fast-food chains.
All possible children’s meal combinations.
Overall, 289 children’s meals were included. Most exceeded 30 % of daily recommendations and requirements for a 4-year-old’s energy, saturated fat, sugars and Na. Results were also substantial for 8- and 13-year-olds, particularly for Na. When compared with mean energy and nutrient contents from 2010, there were minimal changes overall.
Children’s meals can provide excess energy, saturated fat, sugar and Na to children’s diets. Systematic reformulation of energy, saturated fat, sugars and Na would improve the nutrient composition of the meals.
The Food Standards Code regulates health claims on Australian food labels. General-level health claims highlight food–health relationships, e.g. ‘contains calcium for strong bones’. Food companies making claims must notify Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) and certify that a systematic literature review (SLR) substantiating the food–health relationship has been conducted. There is no pre- or post-notification assessment of the SLR, potentially enabling the food industry to make claims based on poor-quality research. The present study assessed the rigour of self-substantiation.
Food–health relationships notified to FSANZ were monitored monthly between 2013 and 2017. These relationships were assessed by scoping published literature. Where evidence was equivocal/insufficient, the relevant government food regulatory agency was asked to investigate. If not investigated, or the response was unsatisfactory, the project team conducted an independent SLR which was provided to the government agency.
Self-substantiated food–health relationships.
There were sixty-seven relationships notified by thirty-eight food companies. Of these, thirty-three relationships (52 %) from twenty companies were deemed to have sufficient published evidence. Four were excluded as they originated in New Zealand. Three relationships were removed before investigations were initiated. The project initiated twenty-seven food–health relationship investigations. Another six relationships were withdrawn, and three relationships were awaiting government assessment.
To ensure that SLR underpinning food–health relationships are rigorous and reduce regulatory enforcement burden, pre-market approval of food–health relationships should be introduced. This will increase consumer and public health confidence in the regulatory process and prevent potentially misleading general-level health claims on food labels.
The present study examined the energy (kilojoule) content of Australian fast-food menu items over seven years, before and after introduction of menu board labelling, to determine the impact of the introduction of the legislation.
Analysis of the median energy contents per serving and per 100g of fast-food menu items. Change in energy content of menu items across the years surveyed and differences in energy content of standard and limited-time only menu items were analysed.
Five of Australia’s largest fast food chains: Hungry Jack’s, KFC, McDonald’s, Oporto and Red Rooster.
All standard and limited-time only menu items available at each fast-food chain, collected annually for seven years, 2009–2015.
Although some fast-food chains/menu item categories had significant increases in the energy contents of their menus at some time points during the 7-year period, overall there were no significant or systematic decreases in energy following the introduction of menu labelling (P=0·19 by +17 kJ/100 g, P=0·83 by +8 kJ/serving). Limited-time only items were significantly higher in median energy content per 100 g than standard menu items (+74 kJ/100 g, P=0·002).
While reformulation across the entire Australian fast-food supply has the potential to positively influence population nutrient intake, the introduction of menu labelling legislation in New South Wales, Australia did not lead to reduced energy contents across the five fast-food chains. To encourage widespread reformulation by the fast-food industry and enhance the impact of labelling legislation, the government should work with industry to set targets for reformulation of nutrient content.
To determine the extent that Australian fast-food websites contain nutrition content and health claims, and whether these claims are compliant with the new provisions of the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (‘the Code’).
Systematic content analysis of all web pages to identify nutrition content and health claims. Nutrition information panels were used to determine whether products with claims met Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criteria (NPSC) and qualifying criteria, and to compare them with the Code to determine compliance.
Australian websites of forty-four fast-food chains including meals, bakery, ice cream, beverage and salad chains.
Any products marketed on the websites using health or nutrition content claims.
Of the forty-four fast-food websites, twenty (45 %) had at least one claim. A total of 2094 claims were identified on 371 products, including 1515 nutrition content (72 %) and 579 health claims (28 %). Five fast-food products with health (5 %) and 157 products with nutrition content claims (43 %) did not meet the requirements of the Code to allow them to carry such claims.
New provisions in the Code came into effect in January 2016 after a 3-year transition. Food regulatory agencies should review fast-food websites to ensure compliance with the qualifying criteria for nutrition content and health claim regulations. This would prevent consumers from viewing unhealthy foods as healthier choices. Healthy choices could be facilitated by applying NPSC to nutrition content claims. Fast-food chains should be educated on the requirements of the Code regarding claims.
To determine whether the ratings from the Australian front-of-pack labelling scheme, Health Star Rating (HSR), and the ability to carry health claims using the Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criterion (NPSC) for core dairy products promote foods consistent with the Australian Dietary Guidelines.
The Australian nutrient profiling model used for assessing eligibility for health claims was compared with the nutrient profiling model underpinning the HSR system to determine their agreement when assessing dairy products. Agreement between the extent to which products met nutrient profiling criteria and scored three stars or over using the HSR calculator was determined using Cohen’s kappa tests.
The four largest supermarket chains in Sydney, Australia.
All available products in the milk, hard cheese, soft cheese and yoghurt categories (n 1363) were surveyed in March–May 2014. Nutrition composition and ingredients lists were recorded for each product.
There was ‘good’ agreement between NPSC and HSR overall (κ=0·78; 95 % CI 0·75, 0·81; P<0·001), for hard cheeses (κ=0·72; 95 % CI 0·65, 0·79; P<0·001) and yoghurt (κ=0·79; 95 % CI 0·73, 0·86; P<0·001). There was ‘fair’ agreement for milk (κ=0·33; 95 % CI 0·20, 0·45; P<0·001) and ‘very good’ agreement for soft cheese (κ=0·84; 95 % CI 0·75, 0·92; P<0·001). Generally, products tended to have HSR consistent with other products of a similar type within their categories.
For dairy products, the HSR scheme largely aligned with the NPSC used for determining eligibility for health claims. Both systems appeared be consistent with the Australian Dietary Guidelines for dairy products, with lower-fat products rating higher.
To investigate nutrition literacy among adult grocery buyers regarding energy-related labelling terms on food packaging.
Qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys to determine shoppers’ understanding of energy terms (‘energy’, ‘calories’ and ‘kilojoules’) and how energy terms affect perceptions of healthiness and intentions to purchase breakfast cereals, muesli bars and frozen meals.
Individual in-depth interviews and surveys in two metropolitan supermarkets, Sydney, Australia.
Australian adults (interview n 40, survey n 405) aged 18–79 years.
The relationship between energy and perceived healthiness of food varied by product type: higher energy breakfast cereals were perceived to be healthier, while lower energy frozen meals were seen as healthier choices. Likewise, intentions to purchase the higher energy product varied according to product type. The primary reason stated for purchasing higher energy products was for sustained energy. Participants from households of lower socio-economic status were significantly more likely to perceive higher energy products as healthier. From the qualitative interviews, participants expressed uncertainty about their understanding of kilojoules, while only 40 % of participants in intercept surveys correctly answered that kilojoules and calories measured the same thing.
Australian consumers have a poor understanding of energy and kilojoules and tend to perceive higher energy products as healthier and providing sustained energy. This has implications regarding the usefulness of industry front-of-pack labelling initiatives and quick service restaurant menu labelling that provides information on energy content only. Comprehensive and widely communicated education campaigns will be essential to guide consumers towards healthier choices.
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