Could Mandatory Calorie Labeling Lead to Healthier Fast Food?
Byline: Michael Hills Associated Press
Will a national requirement for chain restaurants to post calorie counts sound the death knell for bacon cheeseburgers and double chocolate doughnuts?
The calorie-posting mandate, signed into law by President Barack Obama as part of the health care overhaul, assumes diners will feel the culinary equivalent of sticker shock when confronted with calorie counts for greasy, sugary and fatty foods.
Anti-obesity advocates also hope that forcing restaurants to reveal calorie counts will coax the chains to offer healthier options.
Early studies do show some modest changes in consumer behavior in New York City, which enacted its pioneering calorie-posting law in 2008. But whether the measure also is pushing healthier items onto menus is less clear.
While chain restaurants have introduced scores of healthier menu items in recent years, most say the changes are coincidental to calorie-posting laws, an effort to keep pace with consumer demand for healthier items.
Not so for Le Pain Quotidien, a bakery and restaurant chain with more than a dozen locations in New York City. Olivier Arizzi, brand marketing manager, said the law definitely prompted changes, including making some pastries smaller to cut calories.
"It forced us to innovate," Arizzi said. "We would have had certain pastries that were very popular before, not being popular anymore because the calorie count would be so high."
But other major restaurant chains contacted by The Associated Press cited other reasons for menu tweaks, chief among them the need to satisfy health-conscious customers.
"You hope the calorie posting is going to put pressure on the chain restaurants -- because they have to post those calories -- to reformulate and make small changes in what they offer," said Cathy Nonas, who directs the New York City health department's physical activity and nutrition programs. "And indeed, we're seeing that. Obviously not with everything, but there are changes in almost every restaurant."
Nonas is looking at menu offerings by chain restaurants before and after the city law took effect. Among the changes she noticed since 2007: Dunkin' Donuts launched its lower-calorie DDSmart options, KFC began selling grilled chicken, Starbucks switched to lower-fat milk for espresso-based drinks and McDonald's cut its serving size for large french fries by 0.6 ounces.
Nonas does not claim a causal link between the city law and healthier food items, she's just happy they're being offered. …