Calorie Counts Coming to Menus, Via Health Care Bill

By Omar Villafranca
|  Wednesday, Mar 24, 2010  |  Updated 7:40 AM CDT
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Health Care Bill Also Means Menu Labeling

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How many calories are in this double cheeseburger? Soon, you'll know right when you order.

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Health Care Bill Also Means Menu Labeling

A local dietitian says calorie labels will help diners make more realistic choices.
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A North Texas dietitian says calorie labels won't convince diners to pass on fried foods, but it can help them make more realistic choices.

A provision tucked away in the massive health care bill that President Barack Obama signed into law Tuesday requires restaurants to include calorie counts on menus, menu boards and drive-through menus.

"I think it's great to have information readily available," said Meredith Ratliff, a registered dietitian with Texas Health Dallas. "Right now, you have to look on the wall or look for a pamphlet. Having it at point of purchase will hopefully keep people a little more accountable to what they are eating."

But she said she's realistic about how much of an effect the labels can have and doesn't expect everyone to choose lower-calorie meals.

Byron Erickson said knowing the calorie counts may convince him to cut out fried foods, but it may help him decide to eat less of them.

"Something that's real heavy with saturated and trans fats -- something like that is really good to sink your teeth into -- then I'll split it with her and only eat half the calories," he said, pointing to his wife.

Devon Mendez said he thought the labels are a good idea.

"America has too many people that are overweight as it is," he said.

The law will apply to restaurants with 20 or more locations. The Food and Drug Administration will create a national standard for the labeling.

The provision was added to the health bill with the support of the restaurant industry, which is facing different laws from cities and states.

"That growing patchwork of regulations and legislation in different parts of the country has been a real challenge, and this will allow operators to better be able to provide their information," said Sue Hensley, of the National Restaurant Association.

But it's not clear what effect the labels will have. In a study published last year by the online journal Health Affairs, only half of customers in poor New York City neighborhoods with high rates of obesity and diabetes noticed the calorie counts.

The accuracy of the counts could also be called into question, according to a different study.

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