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Congress debates putting food labels in restaurants- will it help families make healthier choices?

Posted on May 29, 2009 by Maggie LaBarbera

The Menu Education and Labeling Act (MEAL) is back up for debate in congress. This proposed legislation is trying to close the gap left open back in 1990. The 1990 Nutrition Labeling Education Act required food manufacturers to put nutrition information on packages (food labels) but did not require restaurants to provide nutrition information. This bill is now proposing that restaurant chains with more than 20 locations, provide nutrition information as well.

The nutrition information required would be:

  • calories
  • sodium
  • saturated fat
  • trans fat
  • carbohydrates
There have been similar bills proposed over the last few years. This bill has been opposed by the national restaurant association because of the added cost it will impose. Instead, it supports another bill, the Labeling Education and Nutrition Act (LEAN) that would require restaurant chains with 20 or more units to post calorie information for standard menu items on menu boards or a similar sign next to the menu board or at the point of purchase. Additional information on 11 nutritional items, including sugar and sodium, would be available to consumers upon request.

You may wonder what the difference is? The LEAN Act requires only calories to be posted and would allow restaurants to use a poster that could be read by anyone interested in reading the nutritional information. The problem with this proposal is that many studies show that people will not take time to read a poster to find nutritional information. So results on behavior would not be effective. If people had to go to a poster in the grocery aisle to look up the nutrition information on a food item, well, you get the drift! If it is not convenient, most of us won't bother to go look.

Some states such as New York, have not waited for the federal government and have already passed their own version of the law for their state.

Fact- Most people (including myself!!) underestimate the amount of calories in a food item. Is this something our congress should be debating? Will it make a difference in the fight against unhealthy eating habits? Will it make a difference in the fight against childhood obesity?

I guess to help each one of us decide, we have to stop and ask ourselves some questions:

Would you buy your child the fast food hamburger that shows "740 calories" on the menu versus the hamburger that shows "350 calories"?

Would you be surprised if you saw that the fast food meal (hamburger, french fries and a coke) was almost 1000 calories?

Would seeing the amount of calories, sugar and fat in some of the fast food items deter you from buying it for your child (for yourself?)? Would it prompt you to look for some healthier substitutes?

Resource: Tips on healthy fast food eating for the family



1 Comment

The Healthy Advice
Monday, Jun 08, 2009 @ 09:11 PM

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Lovely blog! Thanks for the useful information.

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