Calorie counts required on menus in the US

Posted by James Ferre on 8th May 2008

Australian food industry professionals will be monitoring with interest the outcome of new US laws which have outraged food retailers.

The New York City Health Department has begun enforcing new legislation which requires chain restaurants to post calorie counts on their menu boards. The laws only apply to chains in New York City with more than 15 restaurants nationwide, meaning that 10% of all restaurants in New York will be affected.

According to the New York City Health Commissioner Dr Thomas Friedman, the laws are designed to help address the obesity epidemic which now impacts on millions of New York City residents. “Obesity and diabetes are the only major health problems that are getting worse in New York City,” he said. “(The) regulation will help New Yorkers make healthier choices about what to eat; living longer, healthier lives as a result.”

When people have access to calorie information they use it, according to the New York Health Department. Nearly three quarters of consumers say they look at calorie information on packaged foods in supermarkets, and about half say that nutrition information affects their food selections. The Health Department estimates that this regulation could reduce the number of people who suffer from obesity by 150,000 over the next five years, preventing more than 30,000 cases of diabetes.

The National Restaurant Association in the US is appealing the law with chain restaurants understandably upset with the legislation, which will result in restaurants being fined for a failure to comply. Their appeal is due to be heard on June 9.

Australia, like the US, is also considered to have an obesity epidemic and the success of such laws overseas might lead to similar legislation here in Australia.

How effective the legislation will be has been, and will continue to be, the source of much debate. The impact on chain restaurant sales figures over the coming months will be followed with interest by health experts around the world. In particular, the amount of healthier options sold as a percentage of total sales compared to past months at chain restaurants will be important to track.