Calorie Counts…Someday

As we noted in a Diabetes Flashpoints piece a few months ago, the health-care reform act that President Obama signed into law in March contained numerous grants and programs targeted toward preventive health. One of these provisions requires chain restaurants with 20 or more branches to display the calorie content of menu items, as well as to provide brochures with more detailed nutrition information upon request. A handful of states and municipalities, notably New York City and California, already had laws in place mandating such labeling (although California’s rules have yet to go into full effect). According to a PBS NewsHour article from earlier this year, the hassle of a growing hodgepodge of local rules motivated the National Restaurant Association to support the provision, making it uncontroversial and widely unknown until the law was passed.


As the NewsHour article notes, however, the provision does not contain a deadline by which restaurants must post calorie information. Instead, it gives the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) a year from the bill’s passage to draft guidelines for implementing the new policy. This means it could be years until the policy actually goes into effect. While some chain restaurants have already added calorie information to their menus — including IHOP and Applebee’s parent company DineEquity, according to a recent Reuters article — many are reluctant to do so and are waiting until the FDA’s rules go into effect.

By requiring chain restaurants to display the caloric content of menu items, the new rules aim to guide consumers to healthier choices — without forcing them to do so — with the hoped-for result of healthier citizens and lower health-care costs. But it is unclear, based on the experience of New York City, whether calorie-posting has this effect. As the NewsHour article notes, a study published last year in the journal Health Affairs found that among 1,156 adults polled in poor New York City neighborhoods, only 27% said that calorie labeling affected their food choices, and the study found no effect from the labels on actual food consumption. However, a study by the New York City Department of Health that looked at a broader segment of the population — not just people in poor areas — found that people who said they took the new calorie postings into account consumed 106 fewer calories per order, on average, than did people who said they ignored the new information.

What do you think — should the FDA delay implementing the calorie-posting rule? If your community has such calorie-posting requirements already, do you find them helpful? If it does not, would you like to see this information on the menu? Should other nutrition information — such as fat, carbohydrate, or sodium content — be required on menus as well? Leave a comment below!

If you’d like to share your views with the FDA, the agency is currently seeking public input on how it should implement the calorie-posting requirement; click here to contribute.

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  • Bev

    First I don’t think the FDA should delay in requiring that the calories are posted in the restaurants. Second, as a Diabetic with an insulin pump, I’d like to see, especailly the carbohydrates information, and other nutritional information listed too. I find it very difficult to accurately count carbs when I go out to a restaurant. And last, too bad it’s only chain restaurants, maybe the others will do it on their own to help with our ever “growing” population!!

  • Donna C

    I would like to see calories, carbs, fat, and sodium on menus, but I don’t want the government to require these things. I would like for it to be voluntary. If diners demand these things, eventually the restaurants would comply.

  • Sue M.

    Caloric content of menus does NOT mean a darn thing. It would be far better to list the entire panoply of nutrients on the menus.

    I wish for the total carbohydrate contents frequently when we dine out. It would be so much help.

    But most restaurants will not do this voluntarily due to printing costs!!! Small restaurants and other eateries cannot afford the costs of getting accurate nutrient counts and then preparing and printing the menus.

    Until this is absolutely required tomorrow by regulation, most places will not include this information.

    How come I did not see the caloric listing on our local Chili’s menus last week??

  • Doris J Dickson

    We need to see the carbs and protein to dose properly. Don’t forget upwards of 40% of protein converts to glucose (albeit it more slowly than carbs) so you still have to dose for it (though many people are ODing on basal/Lantus/Levemir instead).

    Fat, cholesterol, transfats and sodium are the ones that will make most obvious how good/bad, healthy/unhealthy a restaurants choices prove to be.

  • Eva

    Dear Donna,

    Sorry to say that my experience shows me that restaurants will never Voluntarily reveal that information to you UNLESS REQUIRED BY LAW! Especially, ones located in high rent districts which are finding it hard to say afloat. I have had many a discussion with asst. mgrs, etc. who told me that publishing nutritional info will have no effect whatsoever…people will still want fried chicken or fried wings vs. grilled wings or fruit an cheese,etc. In fact it is no different than requiring people not to smoke…they will still smoke and want to smoke and avoid establishments that will not let them smoke. One mgr. told me to look to Kentucky as an example of the peoples choice. I told him thanks; but I had enough of a Tea Party member stomping a demonstrator’s head last week and will never look to Kentucky as a harbinger of PROGRESS and HEALTH!