But Do We Want to be Protected?
New York City has tweaked and reissued proposed regulations requiring chain restaurants to put calorie information next to prices on their menus and menu boards.
Many chains, including McDonald’s, Burger King and Starbucks, already provide calorie information on their Web sites or on posters or tray liners.
But health officials say customers rarely see this information before deciding what to order. The regulation would require the calorie counts to be posted as prominently as the price of each menu item. For many fast food outlets, that means the information would be added to the big signs behind the cash registers that list food items and prices.
The regulations will be subject to public comment on November 27 and then a vote by the Board of Health, which is expected to approve them. Naturally, intrinsic to these regulations is the assumption that if caloric information is readily available to customers, they will make different – more healthy – choices from the menu.
“The big picture is that New Yorkers don’t have access to calorie information,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the city’s health commissioner. “They overwhelmingly want it. Not everyone will use it, but many people will, and when they use it, it changes what they order, and that should reduce obesity and, with it, diabetes.”
Subway restaurant has proven to be a bit of a testing ground for at least the first part of this theory.
A health department survey this spring found that only 3 percent of customers at Domino’s, Papa John’s, Taco Bell and other popular restaurants saw the calorie information provided by those chains on their Web sites or other locations before ordering.
By contrast, about 31 percent of Subway customers reported seeing the calorie information, which was posted prominently next to the cash register at the time of the survey. Those who said they did consumed about 634 calories, about 50 calories less than those who did not, the study found.
So it appears that about an eight percent reduction in calorie consumption can be credited to more prominent signage.
This new regulation will follow upon New York’s widely publicized ban last year of trans fats in all city restaurants. Both regulations were applauded by the Center for Science in the Public Interest last year.
Congratulations to the New York City Board of Health, Health Commissioner Tom Frieden and Mayor Michael Bloomberg for adopting these bold new measures to promote the public’s health. When New York City’s major chain restaurants comply with these sensible new regulations, I hope they make the changes nationwide. …
The calorie-labeling regulation approved by the board today will be of enormous help to weight-conscious New Yorkers. … Most of the industry’s arguments against calorie labeling are simply red herrings. … Calorie labeling will put consumers back in the driver’s seat and let them exercise personal responsibility for themselves and their children.
CSPI will be encouraging other cities and states, as well as Congress, to ensure that the rest of the country receives the same kind of protection from trans fat and information about calories as New Yorkers will soon have.
Some questions arise.
Aren’t the menu boards of New York City chain restaurants going to be awfully cluttered with this new regulation?
Will the 8% calorie reduction experienced by Subway customers carry over to all chain restaurants? If it does, will there be a corresponding reduction in obesity and diabetes?
Do we dare to ask: is it worth it? Worth the bigger government? The expense to modify menu boards? The inconvenience of the extra time to sort through an information-packed menu board?
And finally, at what point does regulation cross the line from protection to intrusion?