Calorie Counts On Menus Now Mandatory

Laws requiring food outlets to post calorie information of menu offerings go in effect today. Restaurants, convenience or grocery stores, movie theaters and vending machines with more than 20 sites must comply. ( Sara Brown )

Restaurants, supermarkets, convenience stores, movie theaters and even vending machines are all required to display calorie counts for food on menus as of Monday. This is one of the final rules to be enacted from the 2010 Affordable Care Act, aimed at reducing obesity rates and cutting health costs.

Stores with at least 20 sites will be required to list calories on menus and menu boards, says the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Restaurants will also have to provide on-site additional nutritional information, such as fat and sodium levels.

The menu labeling rules will improve public health, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a CNN interview last week. He pointed to studies showing that enlightened customers order, on average, up to 50 fewer calories a day.

While that equates to the calories in a small cookie, Gottlieb says, the impact compounded over weeks and months can deliver a large benefit.

"This is a meaningful, incremental step in addressing" the country's obesity epidemic, he says.

Almost 37% of U.S. adults are obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity raises the risk of preventable, life-threatening illnesses - including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.

And in today’s busy world, Americans are eating and drinking about one-third of their calories away from home, FDA says.

Food Industry Responds

FDA delayed implementing the rule several times to give the food industry time to comply, after finalizing the rule in 2013. With the increased desire from consumers to know how and where food comes from, calorie information is a large part of doing business.

“This is a welcome development for both the restaurant industry and consumers, and we are pleased that our efforts to preserve the May 7th compliance date were successful. By setting a clear standard, this rule provides the necessary guidance and expectations for America’s restaurants to follow in order to continue delivering a high-quality experience and customer service to everyone who walks through our doors, as well as the transparency our customers demand. We applaud Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and the Trump Administration for working with the National Restaurant Association to push this policy across the finish line,” says Cicely Simpson, Executive Vice President at the National Restaurant Association.

Many large-scale restaurant chains, such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell and Panera Bread have listed calorie information on regular menu items for years. For self-service foods, such as those served from buffets and salad bars, calories will be shown on signs near the foods. Calories are not required for condiments, daily specials, custom orders or temporary/seasonal items.

Opponents to the rule included Domino’s Pizza Inc and industry groups such as the National Association of Convenience Stores and the Food Marketing Institute, which represents food retailers and wholesalers. They argue the rule adds additional costs and liability risks on businesses.

FDA says over the next year, officials will continue to educate the industry about meeting the new rules, rather than enforcing them.