The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has passed a new law in the United States that will require many chain restaurants to include calorie information for all food items on the menu. The goal, according to the FDA, is to “help consumers make informed choices for themselves and their families.” (FDA website)
The law goes into effect on December 1, 2016. Restaurants that will be affected by the new law include those that are part of a chain with 20 or more locations. That means that sit-down restaurants, drive thrus, those that serve take-out, coffee shops that serve food, many bars, and more, will be required to provide calorie count information to consumers.
The question is, will having these calorie counts available help the general population make healthier eating choices?
How Do Calorie Labels Affect Areas Where They Are Already in Use?
McDonald’s has already started providing calorie counts on all foods. Arizona State University conducted a study to determine whether consumers would notice the calorie counts at McDonald’s, and if noticed, if those calorie labels would affect consumers food choices.
According to the study, certain consumers were more likely to notice that the calorie information was provided and to use it to make healthier consumption habits. Things like higher education and higher income both increased a consumer’s likelihood to do so.
New York City has been labeling calories on food since 2008, and Seattle has been requiring it since 2009. In both cities, it has been shown that for those who notice that the calorie counts are on the food, it does have some effect on the ordering and eating habits.
The question then becomes, how do we encourage people to pay attention to nutrition labels that are on foods?
A Brief History of Nutrition Facts and Food Labels
According to an article on the New York Times blog, “nutrition labels weren’t required on packaged foods in the United States until the 1990s.” Since then, there haven’t been major changes to the way that foods are labeled when it comes to health and nutrition.
When you’re purchasing foods at the grocery store, do you pay attention to the nutrition facts on the label? Do they affect your decisions to purchase or eat certain foods, or how much of those foods you eat?
Today’s nutrition labels are designed based on the eating habits of the American population in the 70’s and 80’s. Some schools today are working to make sure that when today’s children grow up, they know how to select a healthy meal, whether it is based on nutrition facts or not.
Teaching Today’s Kids to Eat Healthy
When compared to schools in other countries, American school lunches are not always the healthiest. Some schools have started to teach kids how to select a healthy lunch. A study at Cornell University showed that when children are given options before lunch time to pre-order their lunch, they are more likely to eat healthy than they are when they see and smell the foods they have to choose from at lunch time when they are already hungry.
In addition to making choices when they’re not hungry and cannot see or smell the food, some schools have opted to offer healthier options than they have in the past. In some cases, this means limiting calorie counts on lunch, and in other cases, it means simply offering more fruits and vegetables, and more whole grains.
While there is still some debate on how well these school systems are working, the idea is to get children to pay more attention to what they are eating and how it affects their bodies – the same thing that the new laws are hoping to accomplish with American adults.