Counting Calories in Public

Calories on the menu: Bipartisan bill wants counts in plain view

National legislation would supersede local standards

Calorie-count disclosures would be required on menus at chain restaurants under federal legislation that has the backing of the restaurant industry and nutrition labeling watchdogs.

. . . “The national policy would be quite strong — as strong or stronger than all the others” on a state and local level, said Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director for the labeling advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest.

“This legislation would replace varying state and local ordinances with a national standard that empowers consumers to make choices that are best for themselves and their families,” National Restaurant Association Chief Executive Dawn Sweeney said in written statement.

The calorie count mandate also would apply vending machines “owned by individuals operating 20 or more vending machines,” according to a news release from the legislation’s sponsors. It’s not clear if such a rule is supported by the vending machine industry.

Mike Donohue, a spokesman for the National Restaurant Association, said in an interview that “we’re optimistic this will be passed in the Senate as well as the House and become law,” although the sponsors say the measure would be part of the contentious legislation designed to reform the nation’s health-care system. Read Enitre Article

I am personally excited about this. One of the reasons obesity is such an issue is because people don’t realize what they are consuming and how many calories are in that Big Mac or Applebees platter. I admit, many people won’t care about the calories and won’t change their eating habits, but many may also choose to alter what and how they eat and drink (those Soda’s pack a bunch of calories).

A possible benefit may be the forcing of restaurants to serve healthier meals because people are eating less of the ones that aren’t healthy. Also, some of those “healthy” meals at McDonald’s and such will be eliminated. Why will someone eat a salad with as many calories as a cheese burger? Perhaps now people won’t be so deceived into healthy looking meals. Let’s also not forget that healthy eating habits  = healthier bodies = lower individual  health costs = lower societal health costs. For advocates of a universal health care this could be a good way to save cost.

I do worry this will encourage unhealthy calorie counting – especially for teenagers -, but I am willing to take that risk if it means that we are a healthier nation. This action is, of course, not a silver bullet, but I think it is a good first step and will help Americas take greater care of their bodies.

  1. I’m reading Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food right now and it makes me see this through a different light. He talks a lot about the government and nutritionists in general. Certainly on the one hand if you eat less calories obesity may become less of an issue, but the reality is that it’s less about the calories and nutrients and more about what we’re eating as a whole. Counting calories won’t stop the spread of the so-called “Western diseases” (obesity being one of them) like heart disease, cancer, and tooth decay.

    • Colleen
    • June 15th, 2009

    While I don’t see a drastic down-side to this policy of required calorie labels I fear that it won’t be particularly helpful (I hope I am wrong though). For myself I have noticed that if I know that calorie count I will make certain changes. I discovered that my favorite foods at Macaroni grill are horrible but found a new alternative with about 200-300 less calories.

    Unfortunately, though most Americans no longer know what healthy is and simple calorie counting is a very misleading concept. Having people choose against soda because of calories will more than likely have them choosing diet soda which is just as unhealthy but in a different way. Another example is my children’s school district no longer allows sweets to be passed out as a birthday treat. However, their alternative is the single serving cheese and crackers, which is made of high sodium, artifically colored, fake cheese and processed, salty crackers. To imply that this is a more HEALTHFUL choice is misleading and an example that the overall health problems in America are more than simply too many calories.

  2. Ellie, I heard about this book and I really want to read it. It seems provocative and educational. I actually agree with you. Think knowing calories is an entry level into health reform. Americas health problems are broad and immense and as you said come from a variety of poor eating habits – myself included.

    I personally think about the calorie issue because I see it all the time. I see so many children who are obese and parents who just take kids out to eat all the time. Also, within the lower-income communities people eat what is cheap and usually that means they are filled with calories (and and abundance of other things). I actually don’t think that “counting calories” will help people much, but I do think that realizing that Starbucks drink had 800 calories or that Applebees meal filled your two day caloric intae will impact folks (as long as people are educated about how many calories they should eat.

    Colleen, my hope is that your story about Macaroni grill rings true for others. This movement falls short of being comprehensive, but at least it is a step. Your comment about diet soda is extremely true. Diet Soda, according to some nutritionist and me – like that matters – is horrible for your and worse than regular Soda.

    I don’t want to Gov’t to start making policies that are based on calorie count alone. Like your example in school districts, often that just leads into other unhealthy options. My hope is that this is be the fodder for more change and perhaps comprehensive change that includes and examination, sugar, additives, calories, sodium, vitamins, protein, portion size etc.

    Within this whole health/obesity conversation I also hope there is more talk about exercise. Sometimes it isn’t about what people are eating, but more about if they are lethargic or not. Do they move around and burn off the energy their body is storing.

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