Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Facing the facts

Last fall, a law was passed as part of the Patient Protection and Affordability Care Act requiring all restaurants with 20 locations or more to list calorie information on menus and menu boards for all menu items.  In addition, restaurants would be required to carry the remainder of the nutrition information (fat, saturated fat, sodium, carbohydrate, etc.) in the store.  The enforcement of this law has been delayed, but rumor has it that we will be expecting changes nationally by the end of the year.

A recent study published in the British Medical Journal just made headlines: "1 in 6 changes order when menus list calories." 7,300 New York lunch-time diners were surveyed at 11 fast food chain restaurants 12 months before the law took effect. Nine months after the law became effective, diners were surveyed again.  Calorie intake was reduced by up to 80 calories at the top three restaurants studied.  This is a significant difference, since an intake of 100 calories less per day will result in a ten pound weight loss per year (currently Americans gradually gain weight each year).

As a health-conscious person and dietitian, I'm totally in favor of the new guidelines.  After years of familiarizing myself with nutrition information, I continue to be shocked by the calorie and fat content of many restaurant foods.  Currently a vast majority of the nutrition information can be found online or on apps, but it can still be difficult to locate in a timely fashion.  Seeing the calories in front of me when I'm placing my order definitely affects my choice.

The good news is that restaurants seem to be listening.  Note the 550 calorie meals at Applebee's, default low-fat milk at Starbucks and the upcoming changes to the McDonald's Happy meal (half-portion of french fries and addition of apple slices).  Still the decision rests in our hands.

So my question to you is: Will your order change when you have to face the facts?