The increase in eating in cafes and restaurants since about 1971 until the present, has led to an increase of the rate of overweight and obesity in developed countries. Australia, the USA and the UK all have increasing rates of obesity. When people eat in cafes and restaurants they tend to underestimate the number of calories they consume. For this reason, labelling of menu items with calorie information has been very successful in the USA. It helps patrons to make better choices. Unhealthy cafe eating contributes to more than 46 % of calories consumed by people in the USA.
In this case, Federal, State and Local authorities implemented public policy measures to ensure that public service eateries will label their menus. In Australia, similar laws exist for chain restaurants with more than 20 establishments. The reason that the law is restricted to chain restaurants is because they tend to have a standardised menu. Therefore implementation is not as onerous for individual or family owned cafes and restaurants.
The USA has gone further. They have introduced laws applying to all public service eateries label their menus. This is welcomed by health advocacy groups and academics, such as Marion Nestle.
Other measures to improve the healthiness of restaurant menus
Although there are programs in the USA in particular, encouraging restaurants to provide healthier options on their menus, these have had limited success. One program found that when offered healthier menu options, consumers did not choose these options over less healthy options. Another reason that programs with restaurants did not work is due to the very small profit margins of restaurants. Owners and managers are often very wary of changing their menu to include healthier items.
One article suggested that restaurants can be encouraged with financial rewards and non financial rewards such as increased marketing of their establishment in return for providing healthier options, or labelling their food.
Food labelling is also effective, because it encourages restaurants to develop menu items that are less calorie rich. It is effective in encouraging consumers to choose more healthy meals.
What can the private sector do about unhealthy cafe eating?
I have been turning this idea over in my head for a number of months now. I did some basic calculations and found that a sandwich at my local cafe is about 700 calories and eggs benedict is between 800 and 1500 calories per serve. To mention a couple of examples. These meals are grossly excessive and pretty typical of cafe and restaurant offerings.
What could a health conscious small business do to improve this situation? It seems like a difficult task if consumers have a tendency to choose unhealthy options over healthy options. The reason they do this, is likely to be a result of perceived taste. And the fact that high fat, sugar and salt options appeal to that part of our evolutionary brain that has a preference for high calorie food.
It is definitely interesting to learn more about food choice at university. For my next assignment, I need to design a food choice model, so some of these factors will be distilled and integrated into my learning.
Do you avoid certain cafes and restaurants because of their unhealthy food? Do unhealthy food options make you angry? Would you choose healthier items on a menu, if you had a choice? Under what circumstances?