Thursday, April 1, 2010

Calorie Count: Coming Soon to a Chain Near You!

According to New York Times article, Calorie Data to Be Posted at Most Chains, the new health care bill carries a new regulation that all restaurant chains with 20 or more outlets must display calorie information on the menu next to each item. The federal government is molding this policy after state regulations that already exist in New York City and California, with Oregon implementing similar restrictions in 2011.
Kelly Brownell from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale says this will help consumers better decide what to eat. These restrictions will be eye-openers because he believes that many people will be shocked to know how many calories are in their meals and before they even get a hold of it. For example, if the new regulations are imposed, any consumer will know that a Big Mac is more the 500 calories and king-sized Snickers bar is 440 before purchasing. The federal government did not have to do much negotiating with this new regulation because, surprisingly, the restaurant industry was on board. The industry had been fighting against such standards for decades but in the past few years, they realized they needed to start promoting healthy meals for their customers. For example, take a look at this Applebee’s ad where they are advertising great meals for under 550 calories. The idea behind these regulations is to let consumers know just how many calories are in that fast food burger or a Snicker’s bar to help them make more informed decisions.

Even if consumers do not change their ways, Brownell, and others, believe that is important that consumers know what they are putting in their bodies. However, if you talk to several free-enterprise advocacy groups, they feel like the government has overstepped their bounds, particularly because studies have shown that calorie information has very little effect on consumer’s choice. In addition, critics claim that calorie information does not convince people to change their eating habits. The primary worry for these groups is that the feds will keep push for more regulations if they do not see a healthier nation.

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