As of May 7, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) started requiring restaurants with 20 or more outlets to post the calorie counts and other nutritional information on their menus. The rule applies to a broad range of eating establishments, including chain restaurants, supermarket cafes, convenience stores, superstores, and movie theaters.
Nutrition labeling provisions were included in the 2010 Affordable Care Act and scheduled to take effect in 2017, but the ruling was delayed due to FDA negotiations with the food industry and various legislative efforts to limit consumers' access to nutrition information on menus.
The change will be most evident at mid-size and regional restaurants and grocery stores, since most of the country's largest chains began displaying calorie counts after Congress passed the menu-labeling law in 2010.
A statement from Chris Hansen, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), follows:
"With one in five cancer cases being linked to obesity, physical inactivity, or poor nutrition, ACS CAN has supported national enactment of menu labeling requirements since its original inclusion in the Affordable Care Act. We are pleased that the finalized rule will take effect after years of extraordinary delay and efforts by some politicians and certain retail establishment interests to undermine the health benefits of menu labeling.
"Arming consumers with more information about what they're ordering when eating away from home is a good thing. Final implementation of menu labeling requirements by the FDA will help ensure people know more about what they are about to eat and can empower them to make healthier dietary choices. Additionally, menu labeling requirements can encourage food retailers to offer and promote healthier meal options.
"ACS CAN believes providing people with useful information will help them make healthy food and beverage choices when eating out that can ultimately reduce their cancer risk. This is a substantial step forward as we work to support policies that will promote public health and reduce suffering and death from cancer. We call on Commissioner Gottlieb and the FDA to implement and enforce this rule in the strongest way possible."
In an interview with The Washington Post, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, said "we know that information on menu labels actually inspires consumers to make smarter choices about overall consumption . . . Studies show a reduction of anywhere from 30 to 50 calories a day, on average, for consumers who are eating out -- and consumers eat about one-third of their meals outside the home. So over the course of a year, that could translate into three to five less pounds gained, just from the reductions that you achieved through providing more information on menu labels."
He said he also believes that "menu labeling will inspire competition among restaurants to produce options that are more healthful."
Gottlieb said that for the first year, the FDA will work with restaurants that fail to comply. After that, penalties will be assessed.