Do you really know just how many calories are in that slice of pizza? How about that deep-fried and dipped in sauce appetizer or the so-called "light and healthy" dessert? Well, now you'll be able to see exactly how many calories it is you're eating with the long-awaited implementation of a law that requires restaurants to post calorie counts.
The law originally passed in 2010 as part of the Affordable Care Act and was scheduled to go into effect in 2014. Efforts by the restaurant industry delayed implementation, but as of May 7, restaurants with more than 20 locations must post calorie counts next to items listed on their menus. Restaurants are also required to list nutrition information including fat and sodium levels.
Fast food restaurants like McDonald's, Subway, and Chick-fil-A started posting nutritional information for their menu items before the deadline, as have other restaurant chains like Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, and Baskin-Robbins. Some, like McDonald's, have gone past what the law requires, posting ingredients and additional nutritional information.
The new law covers more than just national chains, though. It also requires grocery stores, convenience stores, and movie theaters that sell prepared food to list calorie counts.
Menu labeling is supposed to help consumers make more thoughtful decisions on what to order when eating out. Limiting calorie intake is part of a healthy diet; the more information customers have, the better decisions customers can make. Having calorie content clearly listed will help people make healthier choices either by choosing different foods or limiting portion sizes.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is overseeing the implementation of the new federal law. They've noted that instead of enforcement over the next year, they plan to focus on educating the industry on how to meet the new rule. For example, FDA guidance states that flyers or signs that list menu items aren't considered "menus" and so don't have to list calorie information. In the same vein, pizza chains that post their menu online and not in store should list calorie content on the online menu instead of on a new menu board inside the store.
Of course, generally speaking, consuming fewer calories leads to weight loss. And there are some studies that show counting calories via food labels encourages customers to make better choices.
It will take some time to see what the outcome of this new law is, but with obesity on the rise, hopefully more information will nudge consumers into making healthier choices.