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Fighting for fast food fat facts -

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ELEANOR HALL: Public health groups are calling for stronger labelling laws at fast food restaurants across Australia.

The Cancer Council and the Heart Foundation conducted an investigation of nine fast food chains in Victoria and found that they are not providing information for consumers to make an informed choice.

Craig Sinclair is the head of cancer prevention for the Victorian Cancer Council and he spoke to our reporter Simon Lauder in Melbourne.

CRAIG SINCLAIR: The disappointing result is clearly the major fast food chains, many of them, are indeed clearly going out of their way to not follow the requirements that they are legally obliged to do in New South Wales, South Australia and the ACT.

Now, putting those together, that represents around 40 per cent of the Australian population, yet when it comes to Victoria, the companies are choosing to not display the requirements they already are doing in those other states.

So surely the question to ask is wouldn't it be simpler for them to follow what they're already legally obliged to do in those states and do the same thing here in Victoria?

SIMON LAUDER: Why should they though, if there's no requirement for that in Victoria or the other states?

CRAIG SINCLAIR: Well what was found in New South Wales is when there was an education campaign combined with clear kilojoule labelling of fast food, is that it had a significant impact on reducing the overall calorie intake of the choices that consumers made, and it represented around a 15 per cent reduction in overall kilojoules - so around 500 kilojoules per meal.

SIMON LAUDER: Is that a big enough success? A lot of people would say that's not much of a difference.

CRAIG SINCLAIR: When you look at it at an individual purchase, it's not a lot, but when you look at the population effect, the amount of people, which are millions of Australians purchasing fast food through these outlets almost on a daily basis.

If you apply it from a population perspective, this would have an impact over time.

SIMON LAUDER: Can you give me some examples of the kilojoule contents of foods that you think might surprise people if they were displayed on menus?

CRAIG SINCLAIR: A great example is a McCafe banana bread, which sounds fairly innocent.

If the kilojoule labels are expressed there, it would represent that that banana bread is around 2,500 kilojoules.

That is about a third of the daily recommended kilojoule intake.

SIMON LAUDER: So that's one slice of banana bread?

CRAIG SINCLAIR: That's one slice of banana bread.

There's another example of a KFC Zinger Stacker box meal and that contains, just that one meal alone, is containing two-thirds of your daily average intake of kilojoules.

So when people are presented with that information, what we found based on the New South Wales experience is that they're more likely to make a healthier choice, not necessarily a healthy choice, but a healthier, which will have less energy in it, which can only be a good thing if we're going to have any impact on reducing overweight and obesity in our community.

SIMON LAUDER: Isn't that why the fast food chains don't want to do it though, because foods that contain fat and sugar are delicious and presumably sell very well, so why would they want to steer people in the other direction?

CRAIG SINCLAIR: Well this is the great question.

I think companies should take some responsibility for, at the very least, to inform the consumers what they are actually purchasing.

And I think consumers should really have as a basic right the ability to have easy access to that information so they can make informed choices and that's all we're really asking for here in this context.

SIMON LAUDER: Are you calling for just Victoria to follow New South Wales or are there other states and territories where you think the case can be made as well?

CRAIG SINCLAIR: Well look, it'd benefit everyone right across the country.

In Queensland at the moment there is public consultation around this very issue and it is very likely that this will happen in Queensland.

Given what we've now learnt from the New South Wales experience, the opportunity is for all states and territories to apply this because we know it can be effective in reducing people's overall calorie intake.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Craig Sinclair from the Victorian Cancer Council, speaking to Simon Lauder.