The study published in the online journal Appetite this month set out to explore the availability and accessibility of healthy options and nutrition information at New Zealand fast food chains. It found that although information was available in 92% of the restaurants less than one percent was available at point of purchase.
The majority of nutrition information was found on company websites (64%), packaging (17%) or tray liners and serviettes (8%).
Dr Helen Eyles from the University’s Clinical Trials Research Unit says: “The placement of nutrition information means it is unlikely to influence consumer purchases.”
Findings also showed that one in five menu items were “healthier options”. These were generally cheaper and lower in energy, total fat, saturated fat, sugar, and sodium per serve than their regular counterparts. Regular options were commonly high in sugar or sodium per serve.
“Although the findings are consistent with the fast food environment in the United States and Australia, the study shows that there is huge potential for improving nutrition in the New Zealand fast food restaurant context,” says Dr Eyles.
Associate Professor Cliona Ni Mhurchu adds “Our findings have implications for policy and food industry, including consideration of mandatory food labelling on menu boards, increasing the proportion of healthier options available, and improving the nutrient content of regular options.”
Researchers suggest that future studies assessing healthier options and nutrition information in fast food stores across different levels of deprivation would be useful for addressing health equity.
The cross-sectional survey was undertaken across 24 Auckland-based fast food stores (two from each of 12 major chains) using on-site visits, telephone calls, and website searches between December 2010 and January 2011.
Paper “Availability and accessibility of healthier options and nutrition information at New Zealand fast food restaurants” http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2011.10.006