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

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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.

Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said it's one step in the fight against obesity.

"Coffee drinks can range from 20 calories to 800 calories, and burgers can range from 250 calories to well over 1,000 calories," she said.

So here’s the question. Will this affect what you order? Will it affect how you think when you drive through a fast-food restaurant or go to a coffee bar? Or do you already know what you want before you even get there?

The Associated Press story:

The Los Angeles Times story:

From U.S. News and World Report:

Add a Comment3 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.

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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

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
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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.


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