The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced finalized rules on Tuesday regarding calorie information in chain restaurants and other retail food establishments. Calorie counts will now be required to appear at movie theaters, gas stations and fresh food bars at grocery stores, among other venues serving food.
"The rules are far broader than consumer health advocates had expected, covering food in vending machines and amusement parks," The New York Times reported, noting that they will apply to establishments with 20 or more locations.
In its news release, the FDA explained that publishing calorie counts is an important step toward helping Americans engage in more mindful eating.
"Americans eat and drink about one third of their calories away from home," said FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. "Making calorie information available on chain restaurant menus and vending machines … will help consumers make informed choices for themselves and their families."
The Washington Post's coverage of the new calorie mandate highlighted just how uninformed consumers typically are, sharing studies from Harvard Medical School, the British Medical Journal and the American Journal of Public Health, all of which identified large gaps between consumer estimations and the actual caloric content of food items.
For example, people estimated that a standard chef's salad contained around 500 calories, when it actually comes in at nearly 1,000. The Post's graphic of the American Journal of Public Health's data illustrated this and other major cases of calorie confusion.
Announced as part of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, the updated calorie information guidelines have been a long time coming. But that doesn't mean people can predict their influence on eating behaviors, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Research on the impact of including calorie information on menus has been mixed, Brian Elbel, an associate professor at New York University, told the Journal.
The positive changes expected by the FDA seemed to be supported by a 2010 study from Stanford University that tracked consumption at Starbucks after the company began posting calorie information on its menus. The researchers found that average calories per transaction fell 6 percent, due mostly to shifting snack preferences.
Importantly, the study also concluded that posted calorie information had no impact on Starbucks' overall profits. In fact, "for the subset of stores located close to their competitor Dunkin' Donuts, the effect of calorie posting (was) actually to increase Starbucks revenue," the study reported.
The cost of including calorie information was one of the biggest motivators for industry outcry, the Journal noted.
The FDA's news release reported that the organization considered more than 1,100 comments from stakeholders and consumers before releasing the final rules. Restaurants will have a year to comply.
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