According to national nutrition experts, “one of the most important public health nutrition polices ever to be passed nationally” was announced on November 25, 2014, by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The new ruling requires calorie counts of food and alcoholic beverages sold in chain restaurants, movie theaters, pizza parlors, vending machines, amusement parks, and certain prepared foods in supermarkets be posted so that consumers are afforded the opportunity to make more informed decisions about their health.
The FDA’s announcement came as a surprise to many consumer health advocates as the ruling is much broader than originally proposed (restaurants only). As a part of the Affordable Care Act, menu labeling became law in 2010, and the FDA has spent the last several years fine-tuning its implementation plan while facing opposition from pizza and movie theater chains. The state of New York began requiring chain restaurants to post calorie counts on menus in 2006, so many of us see these changes as the norm. Panera and McDonalds have been proactive and already implemented these changes nationally, and within one year, Americans should be seeing similar changes in food establishments (including vending machines) with 20 or more outlets such as: KFC, Taco Bell, Subway, Applebee’s, Ruby Tuesday and The Cheesecake Factory. Locally, shoppers at Wegmans, Tops, Price Chopper and Nice ‘n Easy will begin to notice the impact of the new regulations as they apply to prepared foods sold in groceries and convenience stores that are intended to feed one person, such as a sandwich or a salad.
While this new ruling is disappointing and controversial for Big Food and trade associations, public health experts are hopeful that readily available nutrition information will encourage consumers to be more responsible and, in turn, positively impact the country’s obesity epidemic. According to the FDA, “Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home. Making calorie information available will help consumers make informed choices for themselves and their families.” While it is hard to argue its good intentions, it is anticipated the ruling will continue to be politically challenged as well. Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa who helped create the labeling requirement in the law, defended it by stating, “This rule is consistent with our bipartisan agreement and will help to protect and strengthen access to healthy, nutritious foods for families around the country.”