America's Restaurants are Going on a Diet

IHOP menu in NYC
IHOP menu in NYC

It looks like the rest of America is going to follow the lead of NYC and enact legislation which will require chain restaurants to include a caloric breakdown for all their menu offerings.

Already, lawmakers in at least 17 states, including Illinois, have introduced bills that would require menu labeling. Chicago is one of a handful of cities considering citywide regulations.

In California, this issue is expected to come before the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors today.

If all goes smoothly, Los Angeleans will be able to count calories in their favorite restaurants by the end of the year.

Rene Lynch of the L.A. Times covers this in detail here.

Why is this happening?

You mean other than the fact that America (don’t forget Canada, Europe, Australia and even the Chinese) is getting fatter and fatter day after day after day.

How about some good old fashioned political pressure being applied by lobby groups.

Voila.

“A year ago, no one was doing this,” said Margo Wootan, of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a public health group pushing for stronger menu labeling laws. “Now we’re seeing it more and more.”

Groups like the CSPI have persuaded lawmakers and public health agencies that chains with at least 10 restaurants can, and should, easily provide calorie and nutrition information to customers.

What do the restaurants think about these laws?

Well, the restaurant industry has resisted the laws, saying they’re too difficult to carry out, particularly in full-service restaurants where diners have choices.

“We want the customers to have the information. It’s just a challenge to present it so it’s of value to the guest,” said Patrick Lenow, a spokesman for the IHOP chain. “If you have a sandwich and you have your choice of hash browns, onion rings, french fries or fresh fruit, there’s a range of calories. How do you present that so customers aren’t reading a book?”

see Georgina Gustin’s article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for more info

Until recently, Lenow said, IHOP didn’t maintain a list of calorie or nutritional information because customers didn’t demand it, and because “obtaining the data is very expensive.”

Hmmmm, this sounds a little fishy to me.

Methinks that ‘lack of customer demand’ and ‘expensive data collection’ is just spindoctor speak for “Our Big Steak Omelette has almost as many calories as adult female needs for the entire day.”

mmmmmmmmmmmmmm.....I'm fat
mmmmmmmmmmmmmm good…..I’m Fat

But like it or not, it looks like caloric labeling on restaurant menus will soon become reality all across America.

So says the restaurateur:

“As the industry moves forward, and people are more and more health conscious, I believe consumers are going to start expecting that,” said Steve Conway of Imo’s Pizza.

So says the legislator:

“People don’t want to be fat or obese. Left to their own devices, people want to be healthy,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said. “Menu labeling is a powerful education tool. And information is power in the dietary world.”

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14 thoughts on “America's Restaurants are Going on a Diet

  1. People don’t want to be fat or obese. Left to their own devices, people want to be healthy.

    You’d think so, wouldn’t you?

    This is good news, I think.

    I can’t wait to find out if it has an effect on the obesity rates.

  2. The FA movement is all over this and busting out in righteous anger. They are screaming at the top of their collective lungs that this spells doom for those recovering from eating disorders. Now they won’t be able to go out and eat without being reminded of the calories in whatever dish they select.

  3. I like it that non smokers can be protected from unwanted smoke and people can be prevented from eating unhealthy but this is becoming a bit ridiculous. There is already a kind of smoke ban police, will there be any healthy food militia soon?
    Have the people become that sheepish that they need to be lead and kept rounded out against their willing?
    I want to specify that I work out, I don’t smoke and I eat as healthy as possible so I don’t feel victimized.

  4. There is already a kind of smoke ban police, will there be any healthy food militia soon?

    In California, there are already laws against using trans-fats in certain food preparations. Several cities have banned particular overly fatty foods (although most of them have since rescinded those regulations).

    Men’s Health has a great feature called “Eat This, not That” which is a guide for people who are trying to pick the healthier foods when dining out. It lists a number of food stats for popular dinners in the most common US restaurant chains. They recently published a book from all the different columns.

    Personally, I think that the government goes too far in these cases. Is there anybody alive who has not heard about the dangers of cigarette smoking? Not in the Western world, certainly. Yet how many people still smoke? Exactly. We’ve all heard it, and the people make their own choices.

    Likewise with food. I think that most people have some idea of what they are eating. There is a US chain called “Outback Steakhouse,” that offers several table appetizers that are pretty much deep fried breading, drizzled with fat. Can anybody possibly order that and not know that it’s unhealthy? You may not realize that the Aussie Cheese Fries are 3,500 calories per dish (actual stat according to ETNT), but any person with enough brain cells to drive there in a car has got to have heard about fats, fried foods, cheese, etc.

    Some people who are seriously counting calories may not easily be able to make a distinction between, say, the chicken strips and and the grilled breast, but is the restaurant responsible for the habits of everyone that walks through the door?

    I do think that chain restaurants should have a small, separate calorie list available for those who – like many of us here – are very serious about losing or maintaining weight, and watching fats, sugars, etc. It needn’t be printed on the menu; it could be an 8″ x 11″ plasticined card listing the calories, fats, carbs, sugars, and a few other pertinent details, and left on the table.

  5. So you make less fattening foods, people will just eat more of them…

    People get fat eating carbs as well as eating fats….so until WE (moms and dads, school systems, etc…) make lifestyle changes, low cal menus will only appeal to those like us, that WANT to eat healthy. The rest will simply seek out the closest McD’s, which will have to be located in some dark alley behind a false door, protected by some guido looking bouncer…

    I’m a part time personal trainer, and I spend as much time talking to my clients about their lives and helping them make changes there, as we do in the gym…or at the park.

    Schools have all but eliminated recess, health, physical education classes, so we can apply other curriculum to be sure all of our kids are under the highest possible pressure to perform. If parents aren’t trained at teaching, and balancing their children’s lives, they turn to other things to seek relief…drugs, alcohol, and yes, food.

    Train from the inside out, taking on small steps, encouraging good eating habits, and getting outside instead of in front of the PC or game console…

    The rest of this stuff is simply marketing.

  6. Wow! I would never have thought that those items in the menu would have so many calories! I hope others do follow suit.

  7. If this can slightly reduce the trend of enormous portion sizes… I’m all for it.

    As long as something makes people at least think twice about eating something it can’t be a bad thing.

  8. If this can slightly reduce the trend of enormous portion sizes… I’m all for it.

    Excellent point.

    If anything, restaurants will begin to lower their portion sizes so the caloric numbers will not be so high.

    Perhaps if this new requirement costs the restaurants money, a lower portion size will mean food costs will go down, so it may balance out?

  9. Once again, the government stepping in and telling us what we can and can’t do. I don’t care if it’s for a “good cause” becuase I’m tired of the government trying to make my decisions for me.

    Don’t get me wrong-I’m a vegetarian, work out regularly, and make suer I stay healthy. But that’s my decision. If somebody wants to eat junk food every day, guess what? That’s their freaking right!

  10. It is an interesting debate – whether the government should be involved or not. I’m health conscious and pretty much have an idea of calories in food, but sometimes there are still shockers. I think seeing the calories in certain foods would surprise a lot of people, and hopefully get them to make better choices.

  11. Josh, you wrote: “Once again, the government stepping in and telling us what we can and can’t do. I don’t care if it’s for a “good cause” because I’m tired of the government trying to make my decisions for me.”

    The government would not be telling you what you can or cannot eat.. they would just ensure that you are an informed consumer. You can still make your own choices and eat like junk if you chose to!!

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