Judge Upholds NYC Law Requiring Calories on Menus & Menu Boards

Ruling Paves the Way for More Cities, States to Give Restaurant Diners Nutrition Information


WASHINGTON—U.S. District Judge Richard J. Holwell today denied a motion filed by chain restaurant lobbyists to block New York City’s requirement that chains disclose calories on menus and menu boards. The court had previously blocked the city from enforcing the regulation, but today found that the city’s redrafted rule put to rest any questions about whether it was preempted by federal nutrition labeling laws. The judge also roundly rejected the industry’s argument that requiring calories on menus somehow violated chain restaurant’s First Amendment rights.

Advocates of similar menu labeling measures say the ruling paves the way for other local governments to pass them. Thus far, San Francisco and Washington’s King County, which includes Seattle, have also enacted menu labeling laws.

“New York City’s health department and Mayor Mike Bloomberg deserve a heck of a lot of credit for looking out for the health of the city’s residents and visitors, all of whom get a lot of calories from eating at restaurants,” said Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest. “And it’s clear that New York City has also inspired a great deal of interest among health departments and legislators across the country.”

"Judge Holwell’s decision sets helpful precedent that public health officials can look to as they draft similar regulations or legislation," said Public Citizen attorney Deepak Gupta, who filed a brief and made oral arguments on behalf of his group, CSPI, and other supporters of New York City’s regulation. "Consumers need this type of nutrition information so they can make healthy decisions when they dine out."

Over 20 states, cities and counties have introduced measures that require nutrition information on menus and menu boards, including California, Philadelphia and Westchester County, New York.

While most big restaurant chains were otherwise busy fighting New York City’s health department in court, others are complying with the rule and providing calorie information to their customers on menu boards. New York City’s Subway outlets have been using menu boards with calories on them since last year. Pretzel chain Auntie Anne’s and burger restaurant Johnny Rockets have also complied, despite the industry’s legal wranglings. Some Starbucks, Jamba Juice, Chipotle, and Quiznos outlets in the city have recently added calorie counts to their menu boards.

New York City’s chain restaurants that have more than 15 outlets must include calories on menus and menu boards by April 22, but the city will not begin enforcing in earnest until June 4.

“It’s a shame that the restaurant industry has been fighting in courthouses and state capitols around the country to delay this important health information from reaching their customers,” Wootan said.

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