Chain restaurants, movie theaters, amusement parks, grocery store takeout counters and even vending machines must now post calorie counts and other nutritional information for consumers to see, the Food and Drug Administration announced last week. This new disclosure is required under the Affordable Care Act.
Some chains, such as McDonald's and Panera, already have calorie counts posted, but the new regulations will standardize how that information is presented nationwide.
"Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home, and people today expect clear information about products they consume," FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said. Labels will no longer cut it.
Food establishments will be required to clearly and conspicuously display calorie information for standard items on menus, next to the name or price of the item. The rule also applies to certain alcoholic beverages served in food establishments. Salad bars will require calorie counts, as will individual items sold at deli counters.
“In an era when more than half of all American adults are overweight and/or have diabetes or pre-diabetes, it is essential to provide consumers with basic calorie information at the point of purchase,” Harold Goldstein,? executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, said in a statement. “Common sense and public health won out over the restaurant industry’s desire to conceal nutritional information from their consumers.”
The new regulations — which do not apply to independent restaurants, food trucks or food served on airplanes — will go into effect in a year, except for the vending-machine rules, which will go into effect in two. The rules also will not apply to seasonal items carried for less than 60 days.
The rules have been more than four years in the making, and have faced huge opposition from some pizza chains, theater chains, convenience store chains and vending-machine companies. The new rules will be costly for industry – the FDA estimates that the new regulation will cost the vending machine industry $25.8 million upfront and $24 million annually subsequently (although it applies only to companies with at least 20 machines).
However, the rules have strong support from the National Restaurant Association because of their nationwide uniformity. Keeping up with state-by-state regulations was driving the chains crazy, apparently.
"We believe that the Food and Drug Administration has positively addressed the areas of greatest concern with the proposed regulations and is providing the industry with the ability to implement the law in a way that will most benefit consumers," Dawn Sweeney, president of the National Restaurant Association, said in a statement.
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While food vendors might not like the idea of Americans eating less, according to the feds, if just 0.02 percent of obese adults ate 100 fewer calories a week, it would save at least $24 million a year in healthcare costs. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that more than 35% of Americans are obese, and healthcare costs related to obesity reached $147 billion in the United States in 2008.
The hope is that, with the caloric consequences staring them in the face, consumers will make less fattening, more saddening food choices.