With the rapid rise of fast food consumption in Canada, Ontario was the first province to legislate menu labelling requirements via the enactment of the Healthy Menu Choice Act (HMCA). As the news media plays a significant role in policy debates and the agenda for policymakers and the public, the purpose of this mixed-methods study was to clarify the manner in which the news media portrayed the strengths and critiques of the Act, and its impact on members of the community, including consumers and stakeholders. Drawing on data from Canadian regional and national news outlets, the major findings highlight that, although the media reported that the HMCA was a positive step forward, this was tempered by critiques concerning the ineffectiveness of using caloric labelling as the sole measure of health, and its predicted low impact on changing consumption patterns on its own. Furthermore, the news media were found to focus accountability for healthier eating choices largely on the individual, with very little consideration of the role of the food industry or the social and structural determinants that affect food choice. A strong conflation of health, weight and calories was apparent, with little acknowledgement of the implications of menu choice for chronic illness. The analysis demonstrates that the complex factors associated with food choice were largely unrecognized by the media, including the limited extent to which social, cultural, political and corporate determinants of unhealthy choices were taken into account as the legislation was developed. Greater recognition of these factors by the media concerning the HMCA may evoke more meaningful and long-term change for health and food choices.
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