How Many Calories? Keep an Eye on the Menu

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The new federal labeling ordinance is part of Affordable Care Act; it will impact all restaurant chains with 20 or more locations, requiring them to post calorie counts on all menus and menu boards. The Obama administration published a final rule in December of 2014, but implementation was pushed back three times, most recently on May 4 previous year - just one day before the law was set to take effect.

All chain restaurants in the United States are required to publish calorie counts on their menus as of Monday.

But rather than scrapping calorie counts on restaurant menus altogether, we need to find ways to make this information more effective.

Americans typically get a third of their calories outside the home, so federal regulators have been working for almost a decade to help consumers understand what is in each breakfast muffin, afternoon hamburger or evening dessert and make healthier choices.

The regulation is aimed at reducing rising obesity levels in the U.S. Policymakers hope that if consumers are armed with information about the food they eat, they will make healthier choices.

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Consumers who are armed with nutrition information from their fast food place, chain restaurant or retail establishment can thus make informed decisions about the foods they eat for both themselves and for their family. And it won't be just fast-food and sit-down restaurants that are affected. In Chile, for example, a recent initiative requires black warning labels to be posted on packaged foods high in calories, sugar, salt or saturated fat.

Overall, the review found that available research lacked strong designs, which ultimately makes understanding the effectiveness of calorie count labeling all the more cloudy. So the menu tells patrons that a burrito can supply anywhere from 740 to 1,210 calories, depending on the rice (210 calories), beans (130 calories), salsa (15 to 80 calories) or cheese (110 calories) you put in. They said the rules would be too costly and hard to calculate for, say, a pizza with five different toppings. "I pay more attention to the low-calorie options", he said. The intuition is that a consumer may already be leaning toward a cheeseburger before getting a chance to consider the calorie information, thus minimizing its effect on what he or she orders.

In the last few years, people have been on the go more than ever before, which means more eating out and, inevitably, consuming more calories.

"The whole obesity epidemic is explained by an extra 200 calories per person per day", Wootan said, nothing that even a slight caloric reduction is a positive thing.

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