Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Coming To The Menu: Calorie Counts

Chowing down on calorie-laden food at chain restaurants is going to become more of a guilt trip.

The health bill President Barack Obama signed into law Tuesday requires that restaurant chains post calorie counts for all the food items they sell. The law covers any chain with at least 20 outlets, amounting to more than 200,000 restaurants nationwide.

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A growing number of state, county and local regulations already require similar disclosures, and those rules will be superceded by the federal law.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

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