Calorie Counts to Replace Food Items on Restaurant Menus

menu boardOkay, not really. But you might think that's the case given the outrage over a draft of new menu labeling rules released yesterday by the Food and Drug Administration.

The bottom line: All restaurants with 20 or more branches in the United States must post calorie counts for their menu items. In other words, Starbucks has to tell you how many calories are in its Frappuccinos (a lot), and Denny's has to tell you how many calories are in its Fried Cheese Melt (a whole lot). Etcetera, etcetera.

Is that really so very bad?


Calorie displays are already in place in some cities including New York, Portland, and Seattle. The new guidelines aim to expand this practice everywhere by March of next year (although it's rumored the FDA will hold off on enforcing them for an "unspecified time period" to give restaurants enough time to comply).

Before you cry "Food Nanny!" let's look at the reasoning behind the push for calorie disclosure. It's a well-known fact that two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese. Now, check out this alarming statistic from the LA Times:

Americans consume about one-third of their calories on food prepared outside the home and tend to guess wrong about the number of calories in such foods.

If we take the guesswork out of counting calories, if people are more informed about the nutritional information of the food they're consuming, isn't there a chance that they might make healthier choices and, subsequently, obesity rates might go down?

Here are some other highlights from the FDA's new guidelines:

  • Calorie counts must be listed prominently on the menu in a font that's at least as big as the name of the menu item or the price.
  • In addition to calorie counts, the menu must also include the following statement: "Additional nutrition information is available on request." Customers may request such information as: the amount of fat, sodium, fiber, carbs, protein, sugars, and other key food components in each menu item.
  • Vending-machine operators with 20 or more machines must also comply with the new law.

The FDA is asking for feedback with respect to the draft of the rules.

Do you think these rules are useful or too strict?

Image via Matt McGee/Flickr

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