By May 7th, 2018, restaurants and food establishments in the United States will be required to comply with requirements to add calorie information labels to foods that are offered and served. In early February, the House passed legislation which would amend how restaurants would provide the calorie count. Although restaurant owners are in favor of the updated legislation, public health experts are raising concerns.
Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, was enacted by the 111th United States Congress and signed into law by former President Barack Obama on March 23, 2010. Section 4205 of Obamacare mandates nutrition labeling in certain restaurants and food establishments. The provision also requires calorie labeling of certain vending machines. After several delays, the mandate will now take effect on May 7, 2018. Many restaurant owners view this as expensive and an unrealistic expectation. The House passed legislation in February 2018 which provides flexibility for businesses to meet the requirements. More than 150 food service industry organizations signed a letter sent to Congress expressing their support of this bill. Public health experts are concerned this flexibility would allow room for restaurants to mislead consumers. The legislation would allow carry-out restaurants to post their information on the internet, instead of disclosing the information on menus in the restaurant. Additionally, restaurant owners could provide calories per serving for a multiserving menu item, such as an appetizer, without disclosing the total amount of calories. If the legislation is violated, a food establishment would have 90 days to correct the violation.
Some restaurants such as McDonald’s, Panera Bread, Starbucks, and Applebee’s already have nutrition labeling on their menus, expressing support for a federal menu labeling standard. According to a research article posted in Health Affairs, the mean per item calorie content between the years 2012-2014 was lower for restaurants who voluntarily offered nutritional menu labeling than for those who did not. The study was conducted across sixty-six of the largest U.S. restaurant chains and shows that calorie labeling may compel restaurants to serve lower-calorie items. According to Consumer Reports, a recent study published by the independent Cochrane Collaboration showed that people eating out chose meals with 8-12 percent fewer calories when menus included calorie counts.
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