The Food and Drug Administration has finalized guidelines requiring chain restaurants nationwide to post calorie counts for most menu items. Similar rules already exist in places like New York City and Seattle, but thanks to a provision in the Affordable Care Act, calorie labeling will be everywhere in the next year. Are you feeling guilty about what you eat yet?
According to Nation’s Restaurant News, the change will affect about 278,600 restaurant locations across 1,640 national chains. Any chains with 20 or more locations will have to comply within the next year, at what analysts believe will be a cost of about $1,100 per location.
The rules themselves can be surprisingly specific, providing requirements for font sizes, placement and even colors of calorie info. The idea is that the info must be conspicuous. So If you’re serving a 1,500-calorie burger people, better be aware of it. Some exceptions are allowed, however, including daily specials and seasonal items.
“Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home, and people today expect clear information about the products they consume,” FDA commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg said, justifying the need for such rules, in a statement.
The question now becomes, will these regulations actually accomplish their goal of getting people to engage in healthier calorie consumption? So far, the results are mixed, at best. The Wall Street Journal cited a 2011 study that found that after calorie counts went up at a New York City Starbucks, patrons consumed just 6 percent fewer calories. Even worse, a New York Times piece in 2013 found that calorie counts often aren’t even accurate, with four out of five tested items failing independent verification. The restaurants with the inaccurate counts cited reasons such as the difficulty of determining accurate calorie numbers and variations in process from store to store within a chain.
Even if it’s not perfect yet, shedding some light on how much we’re actually eating is a step in the right direction.