Report: Restaurants Must Do More in Fight against U.S. Obesity

Article excerpt

RESTAURANTS AND CAFETERIAS should promote lower-calorie foods, decrease portion sizes and provide customers with nutritional information to help combat the rising U.S. obesity epidemic, according to a new report.

The report, prepared by the non-profit Keystone Center and released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in June, addressed statistics showing that Americans spend 46 percent of their food budgets in restaurants and cafeterias, where nutrition information is generally inaccessible and portion sizes and calorie counts can be unnecessarily large.

Presented at a news conference in Washington, D.C., the report was also a response to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that almost 67 percent of adults ages 20 and older as well as 26 percent of adolescents and children are overweight or obese.

While the report was created at the request of FDA, its recommendations are not binding. However, health officials hope the report will provide a launching point for change within the restaurant sector.

"The report will only do as much good as we help it to," said Margo G. Wootan, DSc, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "It does add momentum to the idea of providing better nutrition information to consumers ... but it is up to us in the public health community to take these findings and urge states, cities and members of Congress to push for menu labeling."

The report emphasized the need for accessible nutrition information to help people effectively manage caloric intake, particularly through "prominent displays of calorie content on menus," according to Robert Brackett, PhD, director of FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

The report also recommended that restaurants promote healthy dietary patterns by increasing the marketing of low-calorie and less calorie-dense food such as fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products.

"Our hope is that this report can stimulate innovative thinking of where we can go with this (restaurant) sector," said Barbara Schneeman, PhD, director of FDA's Office of Nutritional Products, Dietary Supplements and Labeling. "We want to encourage restaurants to develop new, innovative recipes with healthier types of food."

FDA and the Keystone Center also recommended that restaurants offer smaller portion sizes. Although people are often attracted to the idea of getting the most food for their money, FDA pointed out that healthier eating could reduce the large costs of obesity-related health care and save people money in the long term. According to a May 2003 study published in Health Journal, an online journal of health policy and research, overweight and obesity-related medical spending reached $92.6 billion in 2002.

"There is a flipside to the 'value meal,'" Brackett said. "Encouraging consumers to take control of their health now will save money down the road."

The report's recommendations are similar to changes that health advocates have been urging for years as a way to curb overweight and obesity. …