Health

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Carlos Osorio/AP

Calories on the Menu Could Become National Requirement

November 17, 2008 08:56 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
A congresswoman and senator have plans to re-introduce legislation next session to require restuarants nationwide to include calorie counts on menus.

Calorie Disclosure Bill to Be Introduced Next Year

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It started, like many trends, in New York City. Printing calorie information on menus survived a court challenge, and is now being considered in several cities and states.

And a bill to require calories on menus throughout the country is going to be introduced in the next Congress, Newsweek reports. Bills are going to be introduced in both chambers after Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., made the announcement late last week.

Thomas Wadden, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Weight and Eating Disorders, told Newsweek that the legislation, if approved, probably wouldn’t lead to drastic changes in nationwide eating habits, but could nonetheless do the public some good.

“I don’t foresee an epidemic of anorexia or an end of ordering from the barista. More than likely, it’s going to help people consume a dinner meal that has 750 calories rather than 1,500 or 2,000 calories,” he said.

Background: Trans fat bans, and calorie accountability

State and city governments have taken numerous steps in the past few years to fight obesity. 

Nashville, Tenn., held public hearings earlier this month on requiring restaurants to include calorie information on menus. If the measure is adopted, it would become the first southern city to do so. 

In Nashville, more than 60 percent of the population is overweight or obese, according to The Tennessean. In the state of Tennessee, 35 percent of youths are overweight or obese, while 13 percent are obese in Nashville, the article indicates.

Only restaurants with 10 or more outlets throughout the United States would be forced to comply with the regulation. The menus or menu boards would have to list the calories “in the same size type as the price,” according to The Tennessean. The restaurants would also have to alert customers that the recommended daily diet for adults consists of no more than 2,000 calories.

New York City and Philadelphia have already enacted similar requirements.

In California this summer, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law ordering all restaurants to eliminate the use of trans fats by Jan. 1, 2010.

Although the ban was opposed by the California Restaurant Association, many restaurants have taken the initiative to ban trans fat on their own. McDonald’s has switched to cooking french fries in oils free of trans fats in all restaurants in the United States and Canada.

Wendy’s fast food restaurants switched to trans fat-free cooking in 2006, KFC and Taco Bell chains switched over last year, and Burger King has promised to switch to trans fat-free cooking by the end of 2008.

Trans fats can be found in vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, cookies, snack foods and other foods made with or fried in partially hydrogenated oils, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The consumption of trans fats increases the risk of coronary heart disease.

The switch to healthier cooking oils seems to be part of a nationwide movement as health officials attempt to hold restaurants accountable for providing accurate nutritional information and healthy choices to customers.

In recent years, New York City and Philadelphia became the first U.S. cities to ban restaurants from serving foods with trans fats, and New York City health officials have begun citing chain restaurants that do not comply with a new law requiring them to post calorie counts on their menus. Other cities are talking about adopting similar laws.

Reference: Trans fats, nutrition guide

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