After years of intense arguments and deliberation, the US Food & Drug Administration has announced that Chain restaurants, vending machines, grocery stores, coffee shops and pizza joints nation-wide will have to display calorie information on their menus. The rule originates from the Obama administration’s 2010 health-care law, and is a positive step in meeting the needs of an increasingly and appropriately health-conscious nation.
Opponents claim that research suggests that calorie labeling does little to affect consumer behavior. However, results from the first and only long-term prospective study of the effect of calorie labeling were just released in Boston at Obesity Week (combined meeting of The Obesity Society and the American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery) suggesting that the labeling, over time, has quite a large impact. In fact, the strategy was found effective for reducing unhealthy weight gain in college students by 50%. Further research shows that a number of restaurants have responded to the law by using lower-calorie ingredients in some of their foods. To put this in context- with everything else remaining equal, a reduction of as few as 50 calories per day would effectively halt unhealthy weight gain in the majority of individuals, including children.
Not surprisingly, groups such as The Food Marketing Institute have expressed disappointment over the ruling, citing concerns about how this ruling will impact food retailers’ bottom lines. Bear that in mind the next time you hear that food manufacturers care about our health. It was, however, good to see that the new regulation is backed by the National Restaurant Association. The Obesity Society just issues a statement commending the FDA for its ruling, and the vast majority of researcher and clinicians are strongly in favor of it, including this one.