Calorie Data to Be Posted at Most Chains
March 24, 2010
By Madison Park
The health care bill signed into law Tuesday by President Obama is the nation’s most sweeping social legislation in four decades. But it also includes some smaller changes that will directly affect consumers.
These include taxes on indoor tanning services, requirements for restaurants to post calorie information and changes to flexible spending accounts.
There are 540 calories in a Big Mac and 670 calories in a Whopper. Nutritional information will be unavoidable when customers step up to the counter to order.
The health care law requires chain restaurants that have more than 20 locations to display calorie information next to the food item on the standard menu.
The Food and Drug Administration has the task of establishing more specific regulations and determining when these changes go into effect.
The health care law requires “succinct statement concerning suggested daily caloric intake” that are “posted prominently on the menu and designed to enable the public to understand, in the context of a total daily diet, the significance of the caloric information that is provided on the menu.”
Dr. Kelly Brownell, a Yale University psychology professor at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, conducted research that found that consumers choose lower-calorie food when their menus contained caloric information and a statement that said “an average person consumes 2,000 calories a day.”
“A lot of people don’t know what it means to have 600 calories,” he said. “They have no context and the legislation requires that anchor statement.”
Nutrition facts would also be required to be posted on vending machine products and drive-thru menus. Temporary specials appearing on the menu for less than 60 days, condiments and test market foods are exempt.
“Consumers have the right to this info whether or not it makes a difference on the diet,” Brownell said. “But I believe the data will ultimately show that it does.”
The National Restaurant Association called the passage of the provision “a win for consumers and restaurateurs.” The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit health advocacy group, praised its passage, calling it a “one of dozens of things we will need to do to reduce rates of obesity and diet-related disease in this country.”
In recent years, New York City and California have passed laws requiring nutritional information on menus.
Earlier this month, Panera Bread announced it voluntarily will post calorie information in all its locations by the end of 2010.