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Why the Health Department Proposes That Certain Restaurants List Calorie Content on Menus

Armen Hareyan's picture

Informed food choices can reduce the risk of obesity - a leading cause of preventable death.

Obesity, and with it diabetes, are the only health problems in this city and country that are getting worse, and getting worse rapidly. Eating more calories than the body needs causes weight gain - which leads to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Since New Yorkers get a third or more of their calories from food eaten away from home, it is important to be informed about how much we are eating when we eat out. In recent studies, 9 in 10 people underestimated calories in less-healthy menu items by an average of more than 600 calories. Even nutritionists underestimated calories in typical restaurant foods by 200 to 600 calories.

Appearances can be misleading. A large soda may contain 600 calories. Main dishes may contain 1600 calories - about three fourths of the recommended daily calories for an average adult. A cup of black coffee has 5 calories, but some coffee drinks with sweeteners and cream have more than 600.

People don't have the information they need to make healthy food choices when they eat out.

Federal regulations require nutrition labeling on packaged foods and beverages - but these regulations do not apply to restaurants. As a result, diners cannot readily get information about how much they are eating.

While many restaurants with standardized menu items and portion sizes make nutrition information available, it is often inconveniently located - on Web sites, in hard-to-find brochures, or hidden in food wrappers and tray liners that customers see only after they make a purchase. Calorie information is almost never displayed on menus or menu boards - where it could actually help people make healthier, more informed choices.

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Restaurants that already provide calorie information should put it where customers can see it.

When nutrition information is readily available, consumers choose high-calorie items about one third less often.

Three fourths of adults say that they read labels on packaged foods, and about half report that food labels affect their food choices.

Making calorie information readily available in restaurants will help people make healthier, more informed choices.

To help New Yorkers make informed choices, the Health Department proposes that certain restaurants list calories on menus and menu boards.

The proposal only affects restaurants that make calorie information for standard menu items publicly available.

Only about 1 in 10 restaurants in New York City would be affected. Generally, these are high volume establishments.

National polls show that most consumers support having nutrition information available in restaurants.

New Yorkers want more information about what they're eating so they can make better choices for themselves, their families, and their health.