By Marion Nestle, Ph.D., M.P.H.
The New England Journal of Medicine
Whenthe Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 went into effectin 1994, it required that nutrition labels be placed on foodproducts but exempted restaurants. The new law removes thatexemption. Implementing this policy has its problems and modest benefits, but calorielabeling is well worth the trouble.
Tucked away on page 455 of the 906-page health care reform act(Public Law 111-148) is a provision for listing calorie countson the menu boards of chain restaurants or adjacent to eachfood offered in vending machines and in retail stores. Establishmentswith 20 or more locations nationwide must post calories “ina clear and conspicuous manner,” along with “a succinct statementconcerning suggested daily caloric intake” — presumablythe 2000-kcal-per-day standard that the Food and Drug Administration(FDA) uses for the “Nutrition Facts” on packaged foods.
The advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest(CSPI) organized support for this measure after having issueda 2003 report arguing that nutrition labeling would help tocontrol the rising rates of obesity. The report summarized evidencethat more people eat meals away from home than ever before,that U.S. children consume twice as many calories at restaurantsas at home, and that nearly everyone underestimates the caloriecontent of restaurant meals.
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