Calorie Counts, Delayed

Way back in 2010 — when the ink was barely dry on President Obama’s signature — we discussed a little-known provision of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) that required chain restaurants to post calorie counts for all items on their menus. As we noted at the time, this provision gave the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) one year to draft guidelines for implementing the rule, which would apply to restaurants with 20 or more locations. It gave no deadline, however, for the FDA to actually implement the rule nationwide.

Some state and local governments already require calorie information to be posted on chain restaurant menus — notably California and New York City, which together hold almost 15% of the country’s population. (In fact, the hassle associated with a hodgepodge of state and local rules was one reason the National Restaurant Association supported the provision in 2010.) By most accounts, restaurant chains have reported few problems associated with posting calorie counts where the law requires them to do so. And so last December, when the FDA announced that calorie counts would be required by November of this year, it seemed like this issue would finally be put to rest.

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But last week, the FDA announced that it was delaying implementation of the rule until December 2016. According to an article on the postponement in The Washington Post, the FDA decided to delay the rule after multiple requests from groups such as the American Beverage Association, the Food Marketing Institute, and the National Association of Theater Owners. These groups, and other food industry officials, justified their request by citing the need to develop software systems for nutrition labeling, create and install new menu boards, and train restaurant staff about the calorie counts. Dozens of members of Congress also urged the FDA to delay the rule by a year.

What’s your take on this latest delay — should the FDA not have bowed to pressure to delay the rule, given that restaurants have known it was coming for more than five years? Or should the FDA have given restaurants more time to comply with the rule when it announced the details last December? If restaurants in your area provide calorie counts on their menus, do you pay attention to them when deciding what to order? If restaurants in your area don’t provide calorie counts, do you think you’d find them helpful, or just ignore them? Would you like to see other information — such as fat or sugar content — posted along with calories on chain restaurant menus? Should all restaurants, not just chains, have to follow this rule? Leave a comment below!