Nationwide Menu Labeling to be Included in Health Reform

A group of senators announced that a nationwide uniform menu labeling standard would be included in the Affordable Health Choices Act.

    • June 10, 2009

Momentum that has been growing across the nation to implement menu labeling policies in states and localities has now reached to the federal level. Today, a bipartisan group of Senators announced that a nationwide uniform menu labeling standard will be included in the “Affordable Health Choices Act,” health reform legislation introduced by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.). Key Senators have negotiated a compromise between the Menu Education and Labeling (MEAL) Act, sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and the Labeling Education and Nutrition (LEAN) Act, sponsored by Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). 

Key menu labeling provisions (Section 325) would:

  • Apply to restaurants with 20 or more locations operating under the same name.
  • Require posting on the menu or menu board of calorie content for standard items and how it compares to daily calorie requirements.
  • Require menus and menu boards provide notice that the following information is available upon request:
    • total calories and calories from fat
    • fat
    • saturated fat
    • cholesterol
    • sodium
    • total carbohydrates
    • complex carbohydrates
    • sugars
    • dietary fiber
    • protein
  • Exempt from calorie/nutrient content requirements foods that are not on the menu or menu boards, such as condiments, custom orders, daily specials, temporary menu items appearing on the menu for less than 60 days, or foods that are part of a market test for less than 90 days.
  • Preempt state and local menu labeling requirements for restaurants with 20 or more locations.
  • Allow restaurants with fewer than 20 locations to opt in to the national standards.
  • Incorporate existing FDA standards for determining nutrition information and analysis. 

What is Menu Labeling?

Menu Labeling is the posting of nutrition information on menus and menu boards to inform customers’ decisions at the point of purchase. The Institute of Medicine recommends that restaurant and other foodservice establishments provide nutrition information as a strategy to address rising obesity rates.[1] 

What the Research Tells Us:

  • Americans spend nearly half of their food budget on away-from-home food, and 45 percent of adults agree that restaurants are an essential part of their lifestyle.[2]
  • The number of U.S. restaurants that provide nutrient content information to consumers has increased over the past decade; however, the majority of restaurants do not provide consumers with this information at the point of purchase (e.g., on the menu).[3], [4]
  • Most individuals significantly underestimate the caloric content of restaurant food[5], especially for higher-calorie foods.[6],[7],[8]
  • Eating more calories away from home contributes to excess energy intake[9],[10] and causes an increase in body weight.[11],[12],[13],[14],[15]

 


 [1] Institute of Medicine, Committee on Food Marketing and the Diets of Children and Youth. Food Marketing to Children and Youth: Threat or Opportunity? Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2006, p. 382.  

[2] National Restaurant Association. 1. Restaurant Industry Expected to Post Modest Sales Growth in 2009 as It Copes with the Weakest Economy in Decades. Washington, DC: National Restaurant Association, December 19, 2008. Available at www.restaurant.org/pressroom/pressrelease.cfm?ID=1725. Accessed June 10, 2009. 

[3] Wootan M and Osborn M. “Availability of Nutrition Information from Chain Restaurants in the United States.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 30(3): 266–268, March 2006.

[4] Wootan M, Osborn M and Malloy C. “Availability of Point-of-Purchase Nutrition Information at a Fast-Food Restaurant.” Preventive Medicine, 43(6): 458–459, December 2006. 

[5] Burton S, Creyer EH, Kees J, Huggins K. Attacking the obesity epidemic: the potential health benefits of providing nutrition information in restaurants. Am J Public Health. 2006;96(9):1669-1675. 

[6] Backstrand J. Fat Chance. Washington, D.C.: Center for Science in the Public Interest; 1997. 

[7] Chandon P, Wansick B. The biasing health halos of fast-food restaurant health claims: lower calorie estimates and higher side-dish consumption intentions. J Consum Res. 2007;34(3):301-314. 

[8] Burton S, Creyer EH, Kees J, Huggins K. Attacking the obesity epidemic: the potential health benefits of providing nutrition information in restaurants. Am J Public Health. 2006;96(9):1669-1675.  

[9]St-Onge MP, Keller KL and Heymsfield SB. “Changes in Childhood Food Consumption Patterns: A Cause for Concern in Light of Increasing Body Weights.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 78(6): 1068-73, 2003.

[10] French SA, Harnack L and Jeffery RW. “Fast Food Restaurant Use Among Women in the Pound of Prevention Study: Dietary, Behavioral and Demographic Correlates.” International Journal of Obesity, 24(10): 1353-59, 2000. 

[11] Duffey KJ, Gordon-Larsen P, Jacobs DR, et al. “Differential Associations of Fast-food and Restaurant Food Consumption with 3-y Change in Body Mass Index: The Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 85(1): 201-8, 2007.  

[12] French SA, Harnack L and Jeffery RW. “Fast Food Restaurant Use Among Women in the Pound of Prevention Study: Dietary, Behavioral and Demographic Correlates.” International Journal of Obesity, 24(10): 1353-59, 2000. 

[13] Niemeier H, Raynor H, Lloyd-Richardson E, et al. “Fast Food Consumption and Breakfast Skipping: Predictors of Weight Gain from Adolescence to Adulthood in a Nationally Representative Sample.” Journal of Adolescent Health, 39(6): 842-49, 2006. 

[14] Pereira MA, Kartashov AI, Ebberling CB, et al. “Fast-food Habits, Weight Gain, and Insulin Resistance (the Cardia study): 15-Year Prospective Analysis.” Lancet, 365(9453): 36-42, 2005. 

[15] Thompson OM, Ballew C, Resnicow K, et al. “Food Purchased Away From Home as a Predictor of Change in BMI z-score Among Girls.” International Journal of Obesity, 28: 282-89, 2004.