The Affordable Care Act mandates that chain restaurants label menus
Starting in December 2016, you’ll notice a change in the menus of your favorite restaurants. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandates that restaurants list the calorie counts of the food they serve. The measure, originally slated to go into effect this December, was given a one-year reprieve.
The rule covers chain restaurants with at least 20 stores and has three main components: 1) Each menu item must have a clearly visible calorie count; 2) the restaurant must point out that the average daily intake is 2,000 calories; and 3) they must let customers know detailed nutritional information about each menu item is available on request. An estimated 1 out of 3 eating establishments in this country will be affected, according to the National Restaurant Association. Vending machines that are part of an operating or ownership group of 20 vending machines or more are also included in the rule.
Though the measure has been hailed as an important step in the battle against the expanding obesity epidemic in this country, a recent review of 19 menu calorie labeling studies showed the practice got people looking at calorie counts, but yielded virtuallyno significant change in calorie consumption—except when it came to parents ordering for their children.
That’s not stopping the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which estimates that adding nutritional information to the menus will produce a “stream of benefits” of anywhere from $3.7 billion to $10.4 billion over the next 20 years. The FDA said the benefit was mainly attributable to a reduced risk of death from eating healthier food.
The percentage of calories consumed in restaurants has almost doubled since the 1970s, from about 18 percent to nearly 33 percent. The rate of obese and overweight adults has more than doubled in that time. According to an FDA analysis in 2014, restaurant food has larger portions, more fat, more calories and less fiber than home-cooked meals.
The ACA’s mandate allows restaurants to provide a range of calories, though that may not be helpful, because people aren’t good at estimating their caloric intake. In fact, researchers at Harvard Medical School found people significantly underestimated the calories in their meals. Even registered dietitians may have difficulty estimating calories if they don’t know how a food was prepared.
Still, advocates argue some information is better than none. A literature review of studies on menu labeling found the idea is popular, with nearly 75 percent of Americans supporting menu labeling.