Big Steps: FDA Moves to Require Better Calorie Accountability
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced that it would impose new food labeling requirements on chain restaurants, pizza parlors, and even movie theaters. All will be required to list calorie counts for items they routinely sell to customers. The mandate applies to chains of 20 or more stores operating under the same name.
Nutrition experts hope that more information will help consumers make better choices by making them aware of high-calorie foods they may be consuming with little awareness of how these foods contribute to the obesity epidemic. Experts hope the move will help stem the inexorable rise in obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other illnesses related to overconsumption of high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods. On average, Americans reportedly get up to one-third of their calories while eating out. Portion sizes have slowly increased over the years, to the extent that 20-ounce sodas and “super-sized” everything else are now common sights.
In essence, the new rules will take some of the guesswork out of eating out. And that will hopefully enable consumers to make better, more-informed decisions about what they’re eating and drinking. To the surprise of health advocates, the rules go further than expected. For instance, food sold in vending machines, amusement parks, and even some prepared foods sold in supermarkets will be covered under the new rules. Even more surprising is the inclusion of alcoholic beverages. Drinks featured on menus and message boards will now be required to be labeled with calorie counts. Only mixed drinks ordered at a bar will be exempt. Some health advocates were surprised by the scope of the new rules.
The labeling requirements are another aspect of the Affordable Care Act, enacted in 2010. Pizza parlors and movie theaters were among the most adamant critics of the new requirements, which accounts for the delay in implementation of the rules. And little wonder. Movie theater popcorn, for instance, can be outrageously high in calories, depending on how much “butter” it includes, and how large a portion one selects. Some selections seem to feature enough to feed ten or more people.
Unfortunately, there is still scant evidence that more information will make much of a difference to consumers’ bottom lines. Some studies have reported no effect in cities where similar moves have been tried before. A 2008 study found that consumers at a national coffee chain reduced their calorie consumption modestly when calories counts were provided. For my part, I think there’s seldom a down side when consumers have more information to help them make better decisions that may affect their health.
Kansas State University website. News and Communications Services. News Releases. Available at: http://www.k-state.edu/media/newsreleases/jan15/calorielabel12715.html