Menu Labelling and Restaurant Foods

Over the past 30 years, the prevalence of food consumed outside the home has increased. Presently in Canada, on any given day, 17.7 million people (approximately half of the population), visit 80,800 food-service establishments. Eating outside the home has been associated with increased caloric intake, as well as increased risk for insulin resistance and obesity. To address this issue, mandatory calorie labelling on menus is a policy option that is being explored. Mandatory calorie labelling on menus, menu boards and drive-through displays in major chain restaurants was first introduced in New York City in 2006 and implemented in 2008. In 2010, calorie labelling was also included in US Health Reform legislation (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act), and in May 2015, the first menu labelling legislation was passed in Canada at Queen’s Park.


Our main research goals are to:

  • evaluate the nutritional quality of foods served in Canadian chain restaurants by analyzing the levels of calories, sodium, trans fat and sugar, among other nutrients;
  • monitor how these levels are changing over time (thus holding restaurants accountable to their commitments to improve the nutritional quality of their menus);
  • evaluate public health policies that aim to help consumers make healthier choices when they’re dining-out, like menu-labelling.


Our research to date has demonstrated unacceptably high levels of calories and sodium in Canadian chain restaurant foods. Furthermore, when we looked at sodium in restaurant foods over a 3-year time period, we found that few foods are getting better, and some are actually getting worse. We also evaluated added sugars in kids’ meals from restaurants and showed than many meals exceed the World Health Organization’s current recommendations. Our most recent research on this topic has demonstrated unacceptably high levels of calories, fat, and sodium in kids’ meals from chain restaurants.

Importantly, we have used our research to inform key decision makers in Ontario about the benefits and drawbacks of menu labelling. For example, we published research demonstrating the benefit of including sodium in addition to calories on restaurant menus, which was used to inform and support various movements by Toronto Public Health  (for example, their Savvy Diner Campaign). Our results were presented before the Toronto Board of Health as well as the Standing Committee on Government at Queen’s Park [click here to view the presentation]. Overall, our findings have been instrumental in informing the current menu-labelling bill that is being implemented in Ontario.