Facebook Pixel

New menu law will make calories easy to count – but do you really want to know?

Rate This

We know better. We know that the chili-cheese dog has more calories than the salad. We know that the double burger and super fries is bad news for our waistlines. And yet we order.

But a part of the nation’s massive health care reform bill passed Sunday will make those calorie counts at restaurants even harder to ignore. Any restaurant with 20 or more locations nationwide must post calorie counts on all of its menus, including buffets and drive-throughs.

From the Associated Press:

The idea is to make sure that customers process the calorie information as they are ordering. Many restaurants currently post nutritional information in a hallway, on a hamburger wrapper or on their Web site. The new law will make calories immediately available for most items.

“The nutrition information is right on the menu or menu board next to the name of the menu item, rather than in a pamphlet or in tiny print on a poster, so that consumers can see it when they are making ordering decisions," said Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, who wrote the provision.

The Food and Drug Administration has a year to write the rules, which will supersede many of the recent efforts by states to regulate certain aspects of the restaurant industry in the nutrition area. In fact, the law was added to the health care reform bill with the blessing of the restaurant industry, which hears complaints from consumers and must deal with various state regulations. More from the AP story:

Sue Hensley of the National Restaurant Association says it will help restaurants better respond to their customers.

"That growing patchwork of regulations and legislation in different parts of the country has been a real challenge, and this will allow operators to better be able to provide their information," she said.

Some meals will be exempt from the calorie counts, including specials on the menu less than 60 days. The law will also apply to foods sold in vending machines, specifically those that do not have visible calorie listings on the front of the package.

Add a Comment5 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

Most restaurants have calorie information readily available in the literature and a restaurant on their website, but the new measure to provide calorie content would be visible in retail outlets, which aims to prevent the Americans eat high-calorie items, and possibly take to combat the epidemic of obesity in the United States.

mesa dentist

May 9, 2010 - 10:18pm

Hmm, you could be right that this has no connection to eating disorders. But I still think that my comment that calorie counting makes people think they're eating healthy foods just because something is low in calories is true.

April 14, 2010 - 1:55pm
HERWriter Guide (reply to cazort)

Definitely agree with you on that, cazort.

I see people sucking on diet drinks that have no calories but are awful for our bones and teeth. I know people who chew on gummy bears and worms and lot of other "fat free" or "low calorie" foods that are actually filled with sugar (that will all be converted to fat) and all sorts of chemicals.

The bottom line is that most foods are fine in moderation but that most foods we eat daily should be live, fresh (even flash frozen works) and unprocessed.

(I do find myself jonesing for tootsie rolls though!)

April 14, 2010 - 2:00pm
HERWriter Guide

These are all great points of view!

I don't think calorie counting will cause or even be a factor in anorexia or other eating disorders. These are mental illnesses and counting calories is a symptom, not a cause.

And while eating disorders need to be taken very seriously, the biggest preventable health problem in this country is obesity so that needs a major focus.

This is very timely - I took my kids to Panera Bread for lunch today before all their doctor visits and they had all their calories listed. I hadn't seen this before. I thought I'd hate it ("I'm a grown woman, I can make these decisions on my own without Big Brother telling me all the numbers") but I liked it. It also made me see how many healthy options Panera has (lots!).

The bottom line is that we don't need calorie counters to know that double bacon cheeseburgers are horrible for our health. These calorie counts, ironically, help healthy eaters make more healthy decisions that they help unhealthy eaters think twice. Much of this overeating is funneled by cultural and societal norms, and much of it an emotional/mental issue. When that gets "fixed" then we won't need numbers to tell us that triple chocolate cheesecake is going to make us fat.

So for me, I'm all for it! It DOES help me make better decisions. Will it put a dent in this countries obesity problem? The jury is still out.

Great post, Diane!

March 25, 2010 - 11:46am

I'm not 100% convinced that this is a good thing. Counting calories is something that can easily go down a bad road. I can think up at least three ways. It can encourage anorexia and other eating disorders, and it can also promote destructive fad diets.

Perhaps more importantly, it gets people to focus on calorie counts at the expense of looking at nutrition in a holistic way. Low-calorie food isn't necessarily less healthy. For example, nuts, avocados, and fatty fish are all high-fat, high-calorie foods that are very healthy and nutritious. And whole-grain bread can sometimes have more calories per slice because it's denser (less air), yet it's infinitely better for you.

I think that government regulation of our food supply is something that should be engaged in with caution. This initiative seems sorely misguided, especially when we look at all the unhealthy things that are laxly regulated. Why do we still not label Genetically-modified foods? Why does labeling not distinguish between added refined sugars and naturally-occurring sugars? Why does labeling not distinguish between locally grown fresh ingredients and ingredients that have been shipped hundreds or thousands of miles, stored for months and months, and heavily processed?

I personally think that most people have better health when they start ignoring labeling and instead focus on eating a diverse, balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, local foods, and low in processed foods. And yet...these things can't be communicated with a label. The more we label specific measured chemicals the more we are missing the point. What really matters is the stuff that can't be easily summed up in a number.

March 25, 2010 - 9:01am
Enter the characters shown in the image.
By submitting this form, you agree to EmpowHER's terms of service and privacy policy
Add a Comment

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


Get Email Updates

Health Newsletter

Receive the latest and greatest in women's health and wellness from EmpowHER - for free!