While people on the left and right are debating the more popular issues regarding President Obama’s health care bill, if you look deeper into the legislation, there is Section 4205. This bit of the bill requires all restaurants with more than 20 locations to provide nutrition labeling for everything on their menu.
While this may be something new on the federal front, cities and states have already started taking this preventative health measure on their own, including New York City and Philadelphia. Mandatory nutritional labeling is also being scheduled to take effect soon in California, Massachusetts, and Oregon.
There are studies that support both sides of the argument. Supporters of the legislation site studies, including one from Stanford University that found that customers at Starbucks chose foods with lower calories when they were labeled. Another study found that when parents were presented with nutrition labels, they chose 100 fewer calories per meal on average for their children.
On the flip side of the argument is a study out of New York City that examined the results of mandatory labeling there, and found no difference in diners’ food choices when presented with the nutritional facts.
No matter which studies end up being the more accurate, there are some undeniable positives coming from all of this attention to the nutritional content of our foods. According to the Wall Street Journal, more and more restaurants are introducing lower-calories items on the menus, thinking that they need to respond to a perceived public outcry.
While states’ rights advocates may oppose a federal law, some in the restaurant industry understandably prefer a federal rule over individual state mandates, which would make for a logistical mess for companies that have food establishments all over the country.
Whatever the results of the legislation, the most important thing is to keep this sort of thing in the spotlight, and hope that consumers demand lighter-calorie meals, which in turn drives a new kind of competition between restaurant chains over who can offer the most healthy food options.
March 30th, 2010