March 29, 2016

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced that they will be pushing back the deadline for restaurants and food establishments to display calories on their menus for a second time.

The requirement, which was part of the 2010 health care legislation, was originally scheduled to be enforced by the end of 2015, but the FDA pushed back that initial deadline to the end of 2016. Now the FDA is saying 2017 will finally be the year we get the news of exactly how many calories we're consuming. Some restaurants, like McDonald's, Chick-Fil-A, and Starbucks already have their numbers posted in their stores. Other restaurants now have more time to get their act together.

Once enforced, any place that sells prepared foods and has more than 20 locations will be required to "clearly and conspicuously" post calories on all menus and displays. Much of the push back (and cause of the subsequent delays) is from supermarkets and convenience stores, who lobby that they aren't solely a food establishment and therefore the new rules shouldn't apply.

While the calorie displays may help certain customers looking to have healthier options, research shows that, for the most part, it doesn't affect overall food choices. Researchers have found that calorie labels, even when actively read by customers, do not reduce the overall number of calories ordered in fast-food chains.

There is a silver lining though: one Health Affairs study shows that restaurants may be voluntarily choosing to reduce calorie totals in their menu items since they will now be on display. On average, restaurants who openly displayed calorie contents had 138 less calories per item than those who didn't reveal the nutrition.

In the end, it's up to the consumer to be conscious of what they're putting in their bodies. But this new law, when it comes into effect some far day in the future, may help making those choices a little bit easier.

Tell us: Do you look at the calorie numbers on restaurant menus? Do you think all food establishments should be required to post the numbers?

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