Obama’s new health care law requires menu calorie counts at restaurants and establishments serving food across the country.
The FDA recently released a set of proposed menu calorie count rules in place of many state menu-labeling laws that already exist. The restaurant industry supported a federal labeling rule so that it would not have to comply with a hodgepodge of different regulations.
The law applies to establishments with 20 or more locations — unless you’re a movie theater chain that serves 1,200 calorie tubs of buttered popcorn, nachos, hot dogs, candy, Gummies, 500 calorie large cokes with free refills, and have a powerful lobbying group to lobby the FDA and congressional staff members to exempt theaters.
On its Web site, The National Association of Theater Owners said that movies were “escapist entertainment”and that moviegoers did not go there with the intent of eating a meal, so theaters should be “spared the costly obligations associated with updating menu boards and menus”.
William Saletan with Slate claims the original version of the rule, drafted last year, had no such exemption.
Saletan notes that AMC offers free extra buttery topping on popcorn, neglecting to mention that every tablespoon adds 120 calories. At many Cinemark theaters, says Saletan, each tablespoon of topping adds 9 grams of saturated fat, half the recommended daily limit.
According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, popcorn samples from all three chains taken to an independent lab revealed that Cinemark’s large popcorn had 910 calories and 1,500 milligrams of sodium; AMC’s had 1,030 calories and 57 grams of saturated fat; Regal’s medium popcorn had 1,200 calories, 980 milligrams of sodium, and 60 grams of saturated fat, and a large soda was 400 to 500 calories.
“These numbers aren’t just astronomically bad,” says Saletan. They’re bigger than what the chains reported to CSPI. AMC’s large popcorn had 50 percent more calories and 75 percent more saturated fat than the company asserted. Regal’s popcorn also scored worse in the lab test than advertised.”
Exempting movie theaters serving nothing but junk food defeats the whole purpose menu calorie counts were designed to achieve — combating the obesity epidemic in America which has compromised the health of millions of Americans, and contributed to skyrocketing health care costs. Two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese, and nearly one third of children and adolescents are also overweight or obese.
And as Saletan points out, why should Regal, Cinemark, or AMC be exempt from the menu-labeling rules we apply to McDonald’s, especially since theater chains serve nothing but junk. These theater chains will now be permitted to withhold caloric and fat content information they misrepresented in the past.
William Neuman with the New York Times suggests local governments would be free to create laws for establishments that were left outside the federal rules. New York City’s labeling law already requires movie theater chains to post calorie information, says Neuman. It also requires calorie labeling for alcoholic beverages listed on menus at restaurant chains.
Also exempt from calorie disclosures are alcoholic beverages served in restaurants, including beer, wine and mixed drinks, as well greasy food slung at bowling alleys, and cotton candy and deep-fried Coke served at carnivals.
In the event you are inclined to accuse the FDA of its glaring hypocrisy, the agency is accepting consumer and industry feedback on the rules before finishing them by the end of this year.