New On the Menu - Calorie Counts!
Voluntary efforts were not enough. Restaurant menus will likely post calorie counts by law.
Specifically, chains with 20 or more outlets will be required to post calorie information on menus, menu boards and drive through displays, and provide written information about total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, sugars, dietary fiber, and protein when customers ask.
That language has been included in draft health reform legislation released by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Subcommittee last week.
Third time's the charm
In the Senate, restaurant labeling legislation has been introduced for the past three years. But this year, it is one piece of the general measures designed to reform the nation’s health-care system. Of the $2 trillion annual health care budget, 75% is spent on chronic diseases. In a large part, those conditions are caused by what we eat. Presently, 65% of American adults – or two out of three – are classified as overweight or obese. The rate of obesity in children and teens has tripled since 1980.
The legislation is backed by Congressional Democrats and Republicans alike, by consumer groups, such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest, by professional groups, and even by the National Restaurant Association, who sees menu legislation as due and prefers one national standard to a hodgepodge of local rules. So far, menu labeling laws have been adopted in New York City, Philadelphia, Seattle, California, and Massachusetts. Oregon, Maine and Connecticut have passed bills that are awaiting final action, and Oklahoma, Indiana, Florida, Hawaii, Kentucky, Minnesota, New York, and South Carolina have bills in the works.
Where's the health?
Americans consume one third of their calories in restaurants, and three-quarters of restaurant visits are to a chain. Restaurants use more oils, solid fats, salt, and sugar to flavor their food, and the beverages, extra appetizers, baskets of warm bread – and don't forget the super-sized portions - add calories too. Restaurant meals are often three to four times bigger than home-cooked meals.
Consumers don’t know, and can’t guess, the calories in restaurant food. In 2007, a California poll showed that only 10% of respondents could choose the healthiest item from a short list of fast foods. Studies repeatedly show that most consumers (including nutritionists) underestimate the calories in restaurant food. Big surprise, when a muffin supplies 600 calories and a cheeseburger can have 1,000.
In New York City where menu labeling took effect in 2008, 82% of people surveyed said calorie information had affected their choices. Surveys of California adults produced similar results.
Against the law
For the last 30 years, the food industry has labeled foods with nutrition information even while obesity has increased. Opponents say that people who eat unhealthy food won’t pay attention to calories on the menu. They say legislation opens the door to frivolous food-related law suits and the price of restaurant meals could rise due to the cost of implementation. Some say this is a level of intrusiveness by Big Brother that we don’t need.
Will people change their eating habits when calories are posted for restaurant foods?
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