Calorie Labeling: Best Part of Health Care Reform

By Corby Kummer
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Ed Yourdon/flickr


Okay, you've got your own favorite parts. Or you will, once you've read all 2,400 pages and 2014 rolls around. But right now I'm celebrating the long-awaited national mandate for calorie labeling on the menus of all restaurants with more than 20 locations.

This is big news, even if like seemingly everything else in the bill it will be a few years before we start to see the changes. I've written here and here about the importance of these rules, which not only provide consumers useful information they're free to ignore—and often do, as critics of the laws love to point out—but, more importantly, coerce large food manufacturers and restaurants into lowering the number of calories in their entrees, which can easily be well over half of the number of calories most people should eat in a day. This is where the blunt tool of regulation and law makes a difference—in changing the "default" option and "food environment," to use two in-vogue terms in the food-activist world, I mean as we in the nanny state like to say.

I wrote about FDA seriousness about this after our recent Food Summit, and now it's up to the FDA to decide just what guidelines it wants to propose; it has a year to formulate those, and national implementation could well take three or four years. In the meantime the separate state and city laws, as in California, Massachusetts, Philadelphia, Portland, and Seattle, will roll into effect (all to be obviated once the national rule is in place, which is why the National Restaurant Association supported the one-size-fits-all mandate), and we'll watch sticker shock roll out too. It'll be really interesting to see what restaurant chains do ahead of the law—they're smart operators—and what form the FDA rules take. In the meantime, it's great news.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2010/03/calorie-labeling-best-part-of-health-care-reform/38025/