Flavour of the Week

Healthier Children’s Menus

The obesity epidemic has reached a “critical mass” with a rather bleak future given the rising rates of childhood obesity and the lack of effective treatments. The Canadian Community Health Survey (2004 data) reports 26% of Canadians between the ages of 2 and 17 are overweight or obese (1). This is especially alarming as obesity and obesogenic behaviors persist into adulthood (2). Furthermore, many children develop obesity associated diseases early in life with subsequent health, social, and economic repercussions.

It was estimated that the total direct cost of overweight and obesity in Canada reached 6 billion in 2006 (3). The U.S. is in a similar situation and has decided to take action by providing healthier children’s menus in restaurants. The potential benefits are significant as U.S. data suggests approximately half of the money spent on food is spent eating away from home (4,5).

An alliance was formed between a major restaurant chain, Darden Restaurants Inc. and Partnership for a Healthier America, an organization that “brings together public, private and nonprofit leaders to broker meaningful commitments and develop strategies to end childhood obesity”. Darden has pledged to make children’s meals healthier by cutting back the salt and calories as well as providing fruits, vegetables, and low fat milk. Several of the chains owned by Darden Restaurants exist in Canada, such as Red Lobster and the Olive Garden. Although not explicitly mentioned, one hopes these improvements will extend to the Canadian franchises.

Making children’s meals healthier (or appear healthier) has been a recent trend in the restaurant sector. For example, McDonald’s has made several changes to their Happy Meal, although these changes were not without criticism. It will be interesting to see how the public responds to these changes. Although “healthier” sounds good in principle, in practice it is not always so successful. This is evidenced by Campbell’s recent changes to soups where they added salt back in to increase sales. This highlights two points: 1) People might not actually want to eat the healthier foods. 2) Companies are primarily concerned with profit.

Cynicism aside, the proposed changes are a step in the right direction and we hope everyone jumps on the band wagon. I haven’t seen any mention of improvements to the adult menus…..


(1) Shields M. Overwieght and obesity among children and youth. Health Rep 2006;17(3):27-42.

(2) Craigie AM, Lake AA, Kelly SA, Adamson AJ, Mathers JC. Tracking of obesity-related behaviours from childhood to adulthood: A systematic review. Maturitas 2011 Sep 13.

(3) Anis AH, Zhang W, Guh DP, Amarsi Z, Birmingham CL. Obesity and overweight in Canada: An updated cost-of-illness study. Obes Rev 2010;11(1):31-40.

(4) Blisard N, Lin BH, Cromartie J, Ballenger N. America’s changing appetite: Food consumption and spending to 2020. FoodReview. 2002;25:2–9.

(5) Clausen A. Spotlight on national food spending. FoodReview. 2000;23:15–17.


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