One-Year Countdown to Calorie Counts on Menus Starts Next Week

Final Guidance from FDA Crowns 13-Year Effort to Bring Informed Choice to Chain Restaurants


Panera restaurants have voluntarily begun labeling calories on menus.

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Calorie counts will be required to be provided on menus and menu boards at all chain restaurants and similar retail food establishments with 20 or more outlets starting in early May of 2017, marking an end to years of delay. The measure was passed into law as part of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. The May deadline is triggered by the release today by the Food and Drug Administration of final guidance to industry on exactly how to implement the law.

The FDA’s announcement was cheered by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, which in 2003 launched a movement to put calories on chain-restaurant menus and menu boards. In 2006, New York City became the first jurisdiction to require calorie counts on chain menus, a requirement that became permanent after surviving a 2008 court challenge by the restaurant industry. Seattle, the state of California, and about 20 other jurisdictions eventually followed suit and passed similar legislation.

For several years, CSPI supported, and the industry opposed, federal legislation requiring calorie labeling at restaurants, but the National Restaurant Association dropped its objectionto the idea in 2009, paving the way for the provision to be included as part of the 2010 health-care-reform bill. Already, calorie labeling has prodded some chains to reformulate and add lower-calorie options, and consumers are using the information where it has been adopted.

“It will have taken seven years from the passage of the legislation, but at last consumers will be able to see how many calories are in the items they’re considering at chains like Domino’s, fast-food restaurants, sit-down chains like Applebee’s or Cheesecake Factory, supermarkets and convenience stores, and even movie theaters,” said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. “Customers have been waiting for calorie information, and finally, in a year, they will be able to benefit from it.”

Approximately 80 percent of Americans support calorie labeling at chain restaurants and supermarkets, according to a 2012 national survey. Nevertheless, the House of Representatives, spurred on by the Domino’s Pizza-led “American Pizza Community” lobbying group, passed legislation in February aimed at weakening menu labeling. Among other things it would deny consumers calorie information on menu boards inside pizza and some other chain restaurants. It’s unlikely to advance in the Senate, according to CSPI.

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