Subway First to List Calories on Menu Boards in Country

CSPI Praises Subway for Breaking Away from Industry Laggards


WASHINGTON—Subway is the first large chain restaurant to list calories on menu boards in its restaurants in New York City, as is required by the city’s groundbreaking menu labeling law. Though July 1 was the effective date of a regulation passed by the New York City Board of Health, McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and other fast-food restaurants are refusing to comply while the industry sues the city in federal court. The pretzel chain Auntie Anne’s is also complying with the regulation and Johnny Rockets and Arby’s have submitted sample menu boards to the city. The Health Department will begin enforcing the rule in earnest in October.

“Subway long has made some nutrition information available in stores, but now they’re really making it easy for their customers to know how many calories they’re getting for everything on the menu,” said Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Though industry lobbyists often point to Subway to illustrate the supposed impossibility of putting calories on menus, Subway has shown that menu labeling is perfectly feasible. We congratulate Subway for leading the pack.”

According to a legal brief filed in support of the menu labeling regulation by New York Health Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden, Dunkin’ Donuts submitted a menu board designed to prove that calories could not fit. In response, the Health Department’s in-house graphic artist quickly mocked up a version of a Dunkin’ Donuts menu board that easily displayed calories. The restaurant industry claims in its lawsuit that menu labeling regulations would violate restaurants’ First Amendment free speech rights—a novel interpretation of the Constitution that CSPI characterized as “deep fried.”

“Subway’s new menu board drives a six-inch sub into the heart of the desperate lawsuit filed by the New York State Restaurant Association,” Wootan said. “Frankly, Subway’s competitors come off like crybabies when they complain that they can’t comply with this sensible regulation.”

American adults and children consume about one-third of their calories from restaurants and other food-service establishments. Studies link eating out with obesity and higher caloric intakes.

Without nutrition information, it is difficult to compare options and make informed decisions. Few people would guess that a smoked turkey sandwich (930 calories) at Chili’s has more calories than a sirloin steak (540 calories), or that on the children’s menu an order of chicken tenders (590 calories) has more calories than the baby back ribs (370 calories).

“It’s shameful that the restaurant industry is working so hard to keep their customers in the dark,” said Wootan. “Between the New York lawsuit and aggressive lobbying against menu labeling policies in California and Seattle you’ve got to wonder what they are trying to hide.”

According to CSPI, similar menu labeling bills or regulations have been introduced this year in state legislatures in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Vermont. Local jurisdictions considering similar measures include Washington, DC; King County, Wash.; Montgomery County, Md.; Philadelphia; and Nassau County, NY.

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