Are Restaurants Required to Provide Calorie or Nutrition Info?

Most all restaurants are not yet required to provide calorie and nutrition information to their diners. However, since 2010, fast food establishments with more than 20 branches are required to post this information so that it is readily available for customers. Individual retail establishments and small chain eateries are as yet exempt from this legislation.

As an observation, it seems that the more information a few consumers want to see about the food they eat, the less the majority of Americans appear to care about what they eat and the component parts of the packaged goods and meals they consume.

In other words, no matter how much more health conscious the U.S. and its various state and municipal governments become, the U.S. population continues to grow fatter and less healthy.

What are Some Current Laws and Regulations?

Many restaurants and other food service establishments already voluntarily supply calorie and nutrition information to their customers. A number of state and local governments have also jumped on the dietary bandwagon, most notably New York City.

New York’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, mandated in 2008 that all fast food establishments clearly display the caloric content of their meals and individual food items. More recently, Bloomberg went so far as to impose a ban on soda fountain beverages and other sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces. This ban took effect in September of 2012.

Bloomberg has taken a very public stance on healthy living and eating during his tenure as New York’s mayor. Much of his work has been duplicated in other major cities across the country. In 2005, Bloomberg stood at the forefront of a national campaign to eliminate artificial trans fats from fast food restaurants as well as from packaged foods such as potato chips.

Following New York’s lead, cities such as Philadelphia and San Francisco soon passed their own trans fat bans within their boundaries. Two years ahead of Federal legislation, New York City passed laws that would require all food service vendors to post calorie information on their menus. Seattle and a number of other major U.S. cities soon followed suit.

By 2010, the nation was ready for President Obama’s healthcare initiative, a portion of which would mandate that all fast food and other restaurant chains with more than 20 branches clearly post calorie and nutrition information for all of their menu items.

What does the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act have to do with this?

Sweeping changes brought about by this legislation now require all chain restaurants to post calorie counts for all menu items. While some areas and some states had already enacted similar legislation, the Act gives authority to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to set consistent reporting guidelines for all restaurants in the U.S.

What is the FDA Doing?

While the 2010 Obama Health Care Legislation took a giant step in informing Americans about the nutritional value of the food in chain restaurants, it still casts doubt on how many calories are consumed in other retail food establishments that are not a part of the fast food industry.

Currently, the FDA has proposed two more pieces of legislation to bring non fast food chains and vending companies into compliance by requiring these business entities to also provide calorie counts and nutritional information to their customers. Menu boards in these chains would require calorie and nutrition labels. Labeling would also be required in other retail food establishments and for vending machines. Public comments are now being solicited.

Will These Laws Make Any Difference?

It remains to be seen if any of these laws will have a lasting impact on the majority of Americans. More and more Americans are eating out. According to estimates by the ERS, Americans spend about 42% of their food budget outside their homes in restaurants and chain eateries.

Health professionals hope that, by offering calorie and nutritional data, consumers will slowly begin making better and more informed choices when they go out for their meals. We all know that bad habits take time to build and even more time to break, so any gains our citizenry might make toward more healthful eating may not be seen for some years to come.

According to one study of food choices in fast food restaurants, New York City’s calorie labeling law did not appear to have an effect on the quantity of calories consumers purchased.

How Does Eating Out More Reduce the Average Diet Quality?

The Economic Research Service of the FDA has documented a dramatic change in eating habits of Americans over the past generation. Iin the 1970s, it is estimated that Americans consumed only 18% percent of daily calories outside of their homes. In surveys conducted by the ERS, from 2003 through 2006 Americans obtained a full third of their daily calories while eating out. Almost half of American adults went out to eat three times or more each week, and 12% of those reporting consumed at least seven meals outside their homes each week.

Don’t Food Vendors Also Need to Change Their Habits?

It’s not only up to consumers to make better choices. Restaurants and other food vendors must share the burden of helping to change America’s eating habits. Super-sized meals have already begun to disappear from the American fast food culture and many more healthy choices are regularly appearing on menus across the country.

Other changes include the elimination of trans fats and other less healthful ingredients from cooking processes, kitchen pantries, and store shelves. Other vendors are enhancing existing products by adding necessary vitamins and minerals such as calcium to breads and juices.

In order to make the most progress, government, businesses, and consumers should work together to accomplish meaningful changes in our lives. After all, a proper diet is just the beginning of a healthy lifestyle. Time and attention must also be given to exercise and other healthful activities.

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