FDA Proposes Menu Calorie Display Requirements

Michael Santo's picture

Putting calorie counts on menus is something that some areas of the country have already done, and the FDA has just proposed the same menu requirements itself, which would mean a national shock to many restaurant-goers.

Many admit that the nation, and the world, have a problem with overweight people, and obese people as well. Obesity is defined as having a BMI of 30 or over, while a BMI of 25 to 29.9 means a person is overweight.

The new requirements would force chain restaurants with 20 or more locations, along with bakeries, grocery stores, convenience stores and coffee chains --- as well as vending machines --- to clearly post the number of calories for each item on menus, both in restaurants and drive-through lanes. The FDA estimates that a third of calories are consumed by eating out, and would, the FDA estimates, affect some 280,000 establishments.

A brief look at the menus in some fast food restaurants in San Mateo County, CA, where such menus already carry calorie counts shows the reason behind the moves: the number of calories at Taco Bell, Burger King, and other fast food restaurants are shocking. Looking at the items, the calorie counts are also variable on some items such as combo meals. When asked about the variables, a restaurant manager noted that the variance depended on what type of drink a patron might serve himself: diet (0 calories) or regular.

Mike Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner for foods said, "We've got a huge obesity problem in this country and its due in part to excess calorie consumption outside the home. Consumers generally when you ask them say they would prefer to have that information."

Some establishments are exempt, and that could be a problem for the calorie conscious. While a tub of popcorn at a movie theater will cost you 1,000 calories or more, moviegoers won't have the opportunity to see that fact on the menu, as theaters will be exempt. The FDA will exempt those places whose pimary business is not food. That would include the aforementioned movie theaters, as well airline flights, bowling alleys and other such businesses.

Also exempt will be alcohol. Although consumers will see calorie counts for soda and juice, no such counts will exist for beer or wine. Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest, says that could be misleading to consumers, but added that this is a step in the right direction. She said, "I think it's going to be confusing if customers see the calories for soft drinks and juice labeled on the menu but not other drinks such as beer and wine. It will make it seem like they are better choices."

These rules are coming as a result of the health care bill. Additionally, there were added with the support of the restaurant industry, despite seeming to be something they would not want as a regulation. The reason behind that is the industry would prefer one national requirement, instead of having states and localities define such regulations. New York City was the first in the country to enact a calorie posting law, but since then, California, Seattle, WA and other areas have also done so.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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