Population Health Research




Nutrition & Diet

Nutrition labels
Nutrition labels on food products have become a prominent policy tool for educating consumers and promoting healthy eating habits. Mandatory nutrition labels on pre-packaged foods were introduced in Canada in 2003 and expanded to include virtually all pre-packaged products in December, 2007. We recently completed a systematic review of the use and effectivess of labels on food products - read it by clicking here.

Nutrition information on menus
The increasing number of Canadians who eat at restaurants and fast-food outlets as part of their daily diet is believed to be an important factor in the rising prevalence of obesity. Nutrition labels on food products have become a prominent policy tool for educating consumers and promoting healthy eating habits for pre-packaged foods; however, existing regulations do not apply to foods served in restaurants or fast-food outlets. As a consequence, Canadians currently receive little or no information on the nutritional content of restaurant food and the vast majority underestimate the calories, fat content, and salt of menu options.

We are beginning a new study to examine the impact of nutritional information on menus, funding by the Canadian Cancer Society. Two studies will be conduct 2 sub-studies: 1) An experimental study to compare different formats of displaying calorie information on menus, and 2) A naturalistic study of the impact of calorie information displayed on menus of actual food outlets. One aspect of this study is to examine the impact of diferent presentation formats. For example, are labels that use symbols and images, such as the "traffic light" system shown below, more effective than conventional text and numbers?

Click here to view a description of the study and the funding announcement from the Canadian Cancer Society.

Pre-packaged nutrition labelling: Sodium
Canadians consume approximately twice the adequate daily intake of sodium recommended by the Institute of Medicine, most of which comes from processed foods.  Enhancing nutrition labelling for sodium in the form of front of package (FOP) labels may help consumers make healthier product choices. The current study will examine the effectiveness of four types of FOP nutrition labels on consumer selection of high versus low sodium products. The study is conducted by Samantha Goodman as part of her thesis research.

Click here to read the article.

Marketing food products to children
This study examined the impact of food packaging targeted at children on perceptions of nutrition and appeal among mothers. Approximately 500 mothers of children aged 5 to 10 will be recruited to complete an online survey during which they will rate products in which food claims and the child-friendly design of the packages have been systematically altered to vary the type of health symbols (e.g., "Sensible Solutions") and the presence of cartoon characters. The study is conducted by Peter Sae Yang as part of her thesis research.


Nutritional labelling in hospital cafeteria
The Ottawa Hospital Food and Nutrition Services have recently implemented a nutrition information program featuring digital menu boards in the public cafeteria at their Civic campus. The menu boards display calorie, total fat, saturated fat and sodium content for main food items available for sale. A similar program will is planned for the General campus in the near future.

We are conducting a study funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada to examine the impact of the nutritional labeling initiative on consumer food behaviours. Exit surveys at the cafeteria sites with and without the nutritional labeling program will be conducted at three time points: before the implementation of nutritional information at the General campus, as well as at 6-month and 12-month follow ups. We will also analyze sales date to examine whether the menu displays influence food selection and consumption.

Toy "premiums" and fast-food outlets

“Toy premiums”, offered with McDonald’s Happy Meals®, are a prominent form of food marketing directed at children. Two Californian jurisdictions recently implemented policies that only permit offering fast-food toy premiums with meals that meet certain nutritional criteria. The primary objective of the current study was to examine elements of this policy in a Canadian context and determine if children select healthier food products if toy premiums are only offered with healthier food options. The study also examined if the impact of restricting toy premiums to healthier foods varied by gender and age. A between-groups experimental study was conducted with 337 children aged 6-12 years attending day camps in Ontario, Canada. Children were offered one of four McDonald’s Happy Meals® as part of the camp lunch program: two “healthier” meals that met the nutritional criteria and two meals that did not. In the control condition, all four meals were offered with a toy premium. In the intervention condition, the toy was only offered with the two “healthier” meals. Children were significantly more likely to select the healthier meals when toys were only offered with meals that met nutritional criteria. The effect of pairing toys with healthier meals had a stronger effect on boys than girls. Overall, the findings suggest that policies that restrict toy premiums to food that meet nutritional criteria may promote healthier eating at fast-food restaurants

Click here to read the article.


Recent publications

Consumer understanding of calorie amounts and serving size: Implication for nutritional labelling.
Vanderlee L, Goodman S, Sae Yang W, Hammond D.
Candian Journal of Public Health 2012; 103(5):327-31.

The impact of adding front-of-package sodium content labels to grocery products: An experimental study.
Goodman S, Hammond D, Hanning RM, Sheeska J.
Public Health Nutrition 2012; Aug 3: [Epub ahead of print]. doi:10.1017/S1368980012003485.

The Happy Meal effect: the impact of toy premiums on healthy eating.
Hobin EP, Hammond D, Manske S, Hanning RM.
Canadian Journal of Public Health 2012; 103(4): 244-48.

Sugar-sweetened beverage consumption among a subset of Canadian youth.
Vanderlee L, Hammond D, Manske S, Murnaghan D, Hanning R.
Journal of School Health; In Press.

Nutrition labels on pre-packaged foods: A systematic review.
Campos S, Doxey J, Hammond D
Journal of Public Health Nutrition 2010; Jan 18:1-11. Doi: 10.1017/S1368980010003290.

Use of Nutritional Information in Canada: National trends between 2004 and 2008.
Goodman S, Hammond D, Pillo-Blocka F, Glanville T, Jenkins R.
Journal of Nutrition, Education & Behavior 2011; 43:356-365.

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