Calorie counts on menus having little effect on eating habits

Fort Worth Star-TelegramApril 4, 2010 

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Jane Short made her lunch selection at a Panera cafe-bakery in Fort Worth on Friday, not realizing that the chain was the first to nationally roll out menu boards displaying calories of each item.

All of the chain's 585 company-owned stores now have the signage, getting a jump on rivals that must eventually follow suit under a provision buried deep in the recent healthcare reform law's more than 2,000 pages. (Subway's signage discloses grams of fat, not calories.)

The law requires chain restaurants with more than 20 outlets to post calories of items on menus and menu boards as part of efforts to curb the nation's obesity problem. The Food and Drug Administration is expected to release final rules in about a year.

Public health professionals hope that consumers will trade down to, say, a healthier, 350-calorie salad with grilled chicken upon seeing that a Triple Meat Whataburger packs 1,120 calories, more than half the daily recommendation for a sedentary, medium-size adult.

A number of cities and states -- from Seattle to New York City, from California to Massachusetts -- already have passed or implemented calorie-count menu boards and menus in the past two years.

But even supporters of the trend say results so far have been mixed, said Brian Elbel, an assistant professor of medicine and health policy at New York University who has researched the issue. "The results of calorie labeling [in restaurants] are not as encouraging as people would like," he said.

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