TORONTO – Toronto’s Board of Health has approved mandatory menu labelling.

The bylaw would force restaurant chains post calories and sodium counts on their menus.

The menu-labelling law that would apply to chains with 10 or more restaurants or have at least $10 million in annual sales.

If adopted, Toronto could be the first city in Canada to force such changes. It would also be stricter than the one already in place in New York City, where chains with 15 or more outlets must post nutritional information.

Toronto’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. David McKeown, said if people see the calorie and salt content of restaurant meals, they are more likely to opt for healthier choices.

Dr. McKeown said we’re eating out more than ever, so now is the time for transparency in restaurant nutrition.

“About 20 per cent of the average Canadian diet is consumed outside the home. So what we eat, if it’s making us healthy or unhealthy – what we eat outside the home is playing a significant role,” Dr. McKeown said.

680News food and nutrition expert Rose Reisman told the board that if customers ask for healthier options, the rest will react.

“List them and you’ll see restaurants within three to five years start changing menu items, which is the only way we’re going to get on this path to health. It’s the only way,” Reisman said.

Dr. McKeown said nearly half of Toronto adults are overweight and 25 per cent have high blood pressure.

Currently in Canada, some nutritional information is made available by individual restaurants or chains on a voluntary basis, but the vast majority of this information is neither standardized nor readily visible at the point of purchase, Dr. McKeown’s report said.

In the United States, mandatory menu labelling has become the norm for large chains. New York City was the first city south of the border to adopt that, and since then, the U.S. federal government has enacted menu labelling legislation as part of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the report said.