NYC again votes for calories on menus
Want 300-calorie fries with that?
The city Board of Health voted Tuesday to approve a new version of a law requiring fast-food outlets to display calorie counts on their menus, hoping the fat-filled truth will shock New Yorkers into eating healthier.
The regulation, which takes effect March 31, was altered slightly after a judge rejected the city's first attempt last year.
The new regulation applies to any chain that operates at least 15 separate outlets, including those that don't currently provide any information on calories. Major fast-food chains make up about 10 percent of the city's restaurants.
Several chains, such as McDonald's and Burger King, have the information available but don't list it on their menu boards.
"It's going to get a lot easier to make informed choices at New York City's chain restaurants this spring," said Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "We expect that many more cities, counties and states will require menu labeling once they see how easy it is for these chains to list calories on menus."
But J. Justin Wilson, senior research analyst at the Center for Consumer Freedom, called the new law an example of "nanny-state public health policies."
"It doesn't take a Ph.D. in nutrition, let alone a high school diploma, to tell the difference between a 12-piece bucket of chicken and a salad," he said.
The regulation affects fast-food chains because their standardized menus make it feasible to determine calorie counts.
The restaurants will be required to display calorie counts "in close proximity" to items on their menus or menu boards in letters and numbers at least as big as the name of the item or the price.
Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Frieden said the law would strike a blow against obesity by helping consumers make informed choices.
"Today in New York City, two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese, and half of children are overweight or obese," he said. "It's a serious epidemic."
Some New Yorkers said they would ignore the calorie information if it were posted.
"I think it's a foolish idea," said Patricia Conboy, who was eating a hamburger at a McDonald's in Manhattan. "People should know enough to know what's good or bad for them to eat. I don't eat fries, because I know they're not good for me. I don't need to be told that."
At a Burger King, where the calories were posted in a separate area away from the menu board, Eloisa Malhurin said she had not noticed the calorie counts although she tries to watch what she eats.
"I'm having this burger now but that's it for the day," she said. "Maybe some tea."
New York City, which banned trans-fat-laden cooking oils from all restaurants last year, is believed to be the first U.S. city to enact a regulation requiring calories on menus. Since then, California lawmakers and those in King County in Washington, which includes Seattle, have considered similar bills.
The earlier version of New York City's law was struck down in September by U.S. District Judge Richard Holwell, who said it conflicted with federal food labeling laws.
But he indicated that the rule would not seem to conflict if it were mandatory both for restaurants that had posted nutritional information and for those that had not.
Chuck Hunt, a spokesman for the New York Restaurant Association, said the group had not decided whether to challenge the latest version of the law.
Hunt said the regulation would not stop people from eating fattening foods. He pointed to the nutritional information that is already required on packaged items sold in stores.
"It's been done in supermarkets for 13 years," Hunt said. "Has it worked? Has obesity declined?"
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