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Massachusetts Approves Calorie Labeling Measure

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

In a move to provide millions of Massachusetts consumers with important health information, the Massachusetts Public Health Council approved rules requiring major chain restaurants to provide calorie information for the food that they sell.

Food establishments with 20 or more locations in Massachusetts will be required to provide that information at the point of purchase ― either on the menu board or on the restaurant’s menu. The new rules, which will take effect in November 2010, will cover approximately 50 chain restaurant companies, representing more than 5,000 locations in Massachusetts.1 An 18-month implementation timeline will allow local health departments and the industry the opportunity to familiarize themselves and prepare for the new regulation.

The measure is similar to laws passed recently in New York City and in California, and covers many of the same food establishments that have had to comply with calorie labeling requirements in those major restaurant markets.

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“This is a major step in the right direction in fighting the obesity epidemic in our state,” said Massachusetts Department of Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach. “With more than half of our adult population and one-third of our middle and high school students either overweight or obese, we need to do more to address this problem. We know that providing this information will help our residents make more informed choices,” Commissioner Auerbach added.

Health regulations like the one passed today are popular with consumers. A study conducted in February 2009, gauging reaction to New York City’s calorie labeling law, showed that of those who visited restaurants with posted information, 89% considered it a positive change — and 82% report that nutritional information on menus had made an impact of their ordering.

The measure adopted today is part of Mass In Motion, a wide-ranging statewide initiative to promote a range of wellness activities for Massachusetts residents, businesses and communities. Last month, the Public Health Council also passed regulations allowing for Body Mass Index measurements for all school children in Massachusetts.

Additionally, health officials will soon announce grants for communities to establish wellness initiatives at the local level. These efforts, combined with an expanded state-sponsored Workplace Wellness program and an interactive web site, represent the most comprehensive effort to date to deal with the serious problem of overweight and obesity in the Commonwealth.