March 24, 2010

Nutritional menus are the law of the land

For 3 years, this blog has advocated for more information at restaurants. Now that information is the law of the land.

President Barack Obama signed into law the new Health bill that requires all restaurant chains to post calorie counts for all the food items they sell.

The new law will require 200,000 restaurants to do the right thing. And it means Americans will have the information to do the right thing.

If you see that the Double Whopper is 920 calories, you might make a different selection. (Unless you are running a 10K race that day, since that would just make you even for the day.)

Or maybe at Panera Bread you won't choose the Sierra Turkey on Focaccia with Asiago Cheese at 970 calories (that's right, turkey sandwich at 970 calories), but you'll choose the Half Smoked Turkey Breast on Country at 280 calories.

According to The Wall Street Journal,
"Dining out no longer has to be a nutritional guessing game," said Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit health-advocacy group based in Washington. "People could cut hundreds, thousands, of calories from their diet."

Calorie counts must be listed on menus, menu boards, drive-through displays and vending machines under the law. Additional information—such as sodium levels, carbohydrates and saturated fats—must be available on request. Temporary specials and custom orders are exempted.

A growing number of state, county and local regulations already require similar disclosures, and those rules will be superceded by the federal law.

There has been debate about whether such menu labeling actually affects consumers’ behavior. Some recent studies have found that such labeling leads to healthier eating: The New York City health department examined the behavior of 12,000 customers of 13 chain restaurants in 275 locations in the city before and after menu labeling was implemented in the city in 2008.

Preliminary results show that one in six fast-food customers report using the calorie-count information. Consumers who said they used the information bought items with 106 fewer calories compared with those who didn’t see or use the information.

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