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Health reform includes calorie counts on menus

Restaurant chains with 20 or more locations will have to post calories on menus and drive-through displays.

By Karen Datko Mar 22, 2010 5:40PM

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Tucked inside the health reform legislation newly adopted by the U.S. House is language that will require calorie labeling on chain restaurant menus, menu boards, and drive-through displays, as well as on vending machines.


The provision applies to chains with 20 or more outlets, and requires them to provide additional nutrition information on request.


The bill exempts small businesses, and does not apply to daily or temporary specials and customized orders. It requires the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to propose specific regulations not later than one year from now. Those regulations will be finalized through a formal rulemaking process, and the FDA must make quarterly reports on its progress to Congress.

Similar measures are already in effect or are awaiting implementation in California, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, New York City, Philadelphia, and a dozen other localities. The federal standard will supersede the state and local requirements.


"Coffee drinks can range from 20 calories to 800 calories, and burgers can range from 250 calories to well over 1,000 calories," said Center for Science in the Public Interest nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. "Congress is giving Americans easy access to the most critical piece of nutrition information they need when eating out.

"While it's a huge victory for consumers, it's just one of dozens of things we will need to do to reduce rates of obesity and diet-related disease in this country," Wootan said.


In 2006 New York City became the first jurisdiction to enact menu labeling. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed California's menu-labeling law in 2008. The National Restaurant Association dropped its longstanding objection to menu labeling last year, and actually supported the language just passed by Congress.


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