By: Jackie Glodener
On November 25, 2014, the FDA finalized rules that require calorie and nutrition information to be available at “vending machines,” “chain restaurants,” and “similar retail food establishments” . These rules are part of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Under these new regulations, restaurants with “20 or more locations” must display calorie information next to the “name or price of the item” on menus or menu boards.
You might be thinking that many chain restaurants already post calorie information--Burger King, Chipotle, and The Cheesecake Factory, to name a few. Now, growing chains and small covered food establishments will also be required to post nutritional information. Restaurants that are growing quickly, like Flying Biscuit, will eventually be required to follow the FDA’s new guidelines. Caloric information will also be required for prepared food sold at supermarkets and popcorn sold at movie theatres. The FDA will require calories to be listed for alcoholic beverages as well. It is not know how much costs restaurants will incur as a result of these regulations, but these regulations will have economic impacts. Not only will restaurants have to determine calorie information per menu item, but customers may become more hesitant to eat at restaurants after seeing caloric information.
On the other hand, having the nutritional information posted in plain sight could deter some customers from picking unhealthy options. Instead, they could choose a healthier option off the menu. Could this mean our nation is making a move in the right direction toward better health?
Not necessarily. There are other undeniable factors that contribute to our unhealthy eating habits that go beyond FDA regulations: money, time, and knowledge.
So the question is, will the FDA guidelines have a positive effect on America’s obesity epidemic? With these new regulations, more Americans will be aware of what they are eating. However, the FDA can do more. The FDA needs a specific approach to address the time, money, and educational problems that contribute to obesity. Populations with the “highest poverty rates and the least education” have the highest rates of obesity . Therefore, the FDA should target this demographic if they want to make a strong impact. To approach the time and money problems, the key is to regulate restaurants that attract people looking for convenience and affordability. To overcome the knowledge problem, these restaurants could include easy-to-understand pictures on the side of take-out bags or on napkins, which could, for example, put a 900-calorie burger into perspective of daily energy requirements. Changes that consider consumer perspectives and lifestyles will make a real impact. Although the FDA is not currently targeting the root of the problem, a large population of people could potentially shift their focus toward making healthy choices when eating outside the home. It’s not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction toward a healthier nation.
 Drewnowki, A. & Specter, SE. Poverty and obesity: the role of energy density and energy costs. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 79, 6-16 (2004).
 FDA finalizes menu and vending machine calorie labeling rules. FDA News Release at <http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm423952.htm>
 Krukowski, R. A, et.al. Consumers May not Use or Understand Calorie Labeling in Restaurants. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 106, (6), 917-920 (2006).