City votes for calorie counts on fast-food menus

January 22, 2008 2:47:51 PM PST
A city agency voted Tuesday to revive a plan to force chains to post calorie counts for their foods right on the menu, hoping the fat-filled truth will shock New Yorkers into eating healthier.The regulation adopted by the city Board of Health takes effect March 31.

The city's original effort was struck down by a judge last September. That rule was reworked to make it comply with the court ruling.

The new regulation applies to any chain that operates at least 15 separate outlets, including those that don't currently provide any information on calories. Major fast-food chains make up about 10 percent of the city's restaurants.

Several chains, such as McDonald's and Burger King, have the information available, but don't list it on the menu boards that customers read before ordering.

City officials hope the rule would curb obesity by making people aware of the thousands of calories that can be packed into some of the meals. Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden said Monday he hoped the chains would also respond by offering healthier options.

"I don't think we're going to see the 2,700-calorie appetizers that we see now," Frieden said.

New York City - which banned trans-fat-laden cooking oils from all restaurants last year - is believed to be the first U.S. city to enact a regulation requiring calories on menus. Since then, California lawmakers and King County in Washington, which includes Seattle, have considered similar bills.

The Board of Health original rule only applied to establishments that had already volunteered to post nutritional information about their products.

The judge who struck that regulation down in September indicated the rule would be acceptable if it were expanded to include the restaurants that had volunteered the calorie data as well as those that had not. Those chains would include International House of Pancakes and Hale & Hearty Soups, city officials said.

The Center for Consumer Freedom, a coalition of restaurants and food companies, had blasted the proposal.

"It doesn't take a PhD in nutrition, let alone a high school diploma to tell the difference between a 12-piece bucket of chicken and a salad," the group said in a statement, saying the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg is creating "nanny-state public health policies."

Fast-food companies have said the calorie counts would clutter menus and irritate customers who didn't necessarily want to be confronted with the information.