In December 2006, New York City’s Board of Health adopted posting calories on restaurant menu boards, making the city of New York the first to enact such a regulation. The rule applies to restaurants that are part of chains with at least 15 establishments doing business nationally. But in 2007, the New York State Restaurant Association challenged the rule claiming the city violated the First Amendment by forcing customers to regard calories as the most important consideration on a menu. In February the U.S. Court of Appeals rejected the association’s challenge, but despite this, appeals may continue all the way to the United States Supreme Court.
“This is good news for everyone,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, New York city’s health commissioner. Good news because a chicken filet sandwich at Wendy’s can’t masquerade as being less fattening than their Wendy’s Junior Cheeseburger; my weight conscious sister can no longer assume a smoked turkey sandwich at Chili’s has fewer calories than a sirloin steak; and who would believe a sesame bagel with cream cheese at Dunkin’ Donuts has more calories than two of their jelly-filled doughnuts!
But not everyone is happy, especiallyyou guessed itrestaurant owners like Jim Raffel, owner of four Arby’s restaurants in Maine. “Are people not intelligent enough that they don’t know that they have to maintain a certain amount of calories? Is it my job to educate people on what a healthy lifestyle is? I think most people who are educated know what they should be eating.” Sure we do, Jim, but when forced to face how many calories are in the foods we know we shouldn’t eat, we may not eat them, or at least choose a slimmer alternative.
It comes as no surprise that most restaurant owners and organizations that lobby on their behalf will continue to fight the new law, especially in view of research presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference suggesting the risk of stroke increases with the number of fast-food restaurants in a neighborhood. New York City’s move paved the way for similar laws in Seattle, Portland, California, Maine and Philadelphia. In fact, at least ten states are reviewing the menu calorie law. One state, Philadelphia, will also require restaurants to list the amount of saturated fat, trans fat, carbohydrates and sodium contained in entrees.
More than half of New Yorkers are overweight or obese, according to health department claims; over the next five years the new calorie menu requirement, says the department, will prevent obesity in 150,000 New Yorkers and will stop another 30,000 from developing diabetes and other health concerns. This comes as no surprise to New Yorkers. Nearly half of them believe they’re overweight anyway, according to a recent poll.
Health Department surveys found people consume one hundred fewer calories per meal when they have access to calorie information; nevertheless, it will be interesting to see what effect calorie posting will have on the consuming public. Now that calories are posted, people may opt out of a Wendy’s Chicken Filet Sandwich in favor of their less fattening Junior Cheeseburger. Or will they get a salad somewhere else instead? I doubt they’ll be getting one at Friday’stheir Pecan-Crusted Chicken Salad has 1,110 calories, but then, who would know…until now.
<Spence is a new contributer to FriendsEAT.com. We welcome him and looking forward to reading more of his great article.>