Menu-Labeling Legislation Gains Support from Chain Restaurants

National Restaurant Association Joins CSPI in Support of Legislation Requiring Calories on Menus, Menu Boards


WASHINGTON—Legislation that would require calories on chain restaurant menus and menu boards now has the support of the restaurant industry as well as health groups thanks to an agreement struck among senators who were previously supporting separate labeling bills. Besides requiring calories on menus, menu boards and drive-through displays, the new legislation would require chains with 20 or more outlets to provide additional nutrition information upon request.

That language is included among other prevention measures in the draft health reform legislation released last night by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), the lead sponsor of the Menu Education and Labeling (MEAL) Act that has been long supported by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and other health groups, brokered the agreement with Senators Tom Carper (D-DE) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), sponsors of a separate bill backed by industry.

"Calories on menus will allow Americans to exercise responsibility for what they eat and what they order for their children," said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. "Whether you're concerned about managing your weight or about getting your money's worth at chain restaurants, calorie counts are critical pieces of information. We're delighted to be working with the restaurant industry on legislation that will ensure that calories be listed on their menus and menu boards"

If enacted, the compromise bill would cover all chains of 20 or more restaurants; small businesses would be exempt. Custom orders and temporary specials would be exempt from the calorie labeling requirement, as would items not listed on menus or menu boards, such as condiments. Like the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act that requires Nutrition Facts labeling on packaged foods, the legislation would require national uniformity.

Similar bills or regulations have been adopted in New York CityPhiladelphia, Massachusetts, California and a number of major counties. This month bills in Oregon, Maine and Connecticut passed their state legislatures and are awaiting final action.

82 percent of those surveyed in New York City after its calorie-labeling rule went into effect said seeing calories on menus affected their choices. And Starbucks, Cosi and other restaurants have reformulated menu items to bring down the calories.

CSPI pointed out that companies are required to provide information on the fuel-efficiency of cars, care instructions for clothing, and energy and water consumption of certain home appliances.

"It seems more important that people be able to watch their calorie intake to avoid diabetes or heart disease than to know how to wash a blouse," said Wootan. "Putting calories on menu boards is a common-sense prevention measure that will help reduce Americans' risk of heart disease, diabetes and other expensive-to-treat chronic diseases made more prevalent by rising obesity rates."

American adults and children consume, on average, one third of their calories from eating out. Studies link eating out with obesity and higher caloric intakes. For example, children eat almost twice as many calories when they eat a meal at a restaurant compared to a meal at home. Meals at chain restaurants can be unexpectedly high in calories, with appetizers, entrées and desserts sometimes providing an entire day's worth of calories on a single plate.

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