Family life

Will calorie counts change your fast-food habits?

Tracy Chappell thinks that calorie knowledge could have a ripple effect—and has an idea for the next step in the right direction.

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Photo: iStockphoto

Follow along as Today’s Parent senior editor Tracy Chappell shares her refreshingly positive take on parenting her two young daughters. She’s been blogging her relatable experiences for our publication since 2005.

Ontario health minister Deb Matthews has just advanced a bill in legislature that will require big fast food chains to post calorie counts on their menus. Will it make any difference to the health of Canadians and our growing obesity epidemic? That is the million dollar question.

The argument against this move is obvious: People going to fast food restaurants aren’t under any illusion that they’re about to dig into something nutritious. It’s a guilty pleasure for some, and a quick solution for a rumbling tummy for others. I don’t think anyone believes it’s OK to eat fast food regularly, even if, in reality, they find themselves saying “yes, I’d like fries with that” more often than they care to admit.

Read more: Confessions of a fast-food snob >

Another argument is that calories only tell part of the tale of unhealthy choices, and fat and sodium are equally important. But Matthews admits that this is just one step in the right direction, and they don’t want to overwhelm people with information in case they end up turning a blind eye to it all.

My opinion: How does it hurt? Personally, if I was looking at a selection of meal items at a fast food restaurant and saw that one had a lot less calories than the other, I’d go for that instead. I know it’s only the lesser of evils, but that’s a start. It will also bring attention to how horribly high those calorie counts are (yes—even for the wraps and salads), so we can’t pretend we don’t know. We’ll see in black-and-white exactly what we’re consuming, creating an awareness of those numbers and, hopefully, an internal dialogue about what these splurges really mean, health-wise—and whether they’re worth it. I think if we get used to seeing calorie counts on our restaurant choices, we’ll start to seek them out elsewhere and that will help in our understanding of how to make better food choices all around. Even if we don’t grasp the full nutritional picture, it’s a start, and will likely force fast food restaurants to work harder to lower those counts.

Read more: Snacks: 10 healthy store-bought options >

How about this for a second step: Post how much exercise is required to burn the calories you’re about to chow down on. That might work for me.

Will calorie counts in fast food restaurants change your habits?