FDA calorie rules to go into effect

Chains like Pret A Manger will be required to show calorie counts for all their menu items.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued two new rules, one requiring certain chain restaurants to post calories counts on menus and the other requiring vending machines to have the same information, on Nov. 25.

The rules apply to chain restaurants and vending machines with 20 or more locations, FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg said in a press release from Nov. 25.

“Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home and people today expect clear information about the products they consume,” Hamburg said. “Making calorie information available on chain restaurant menus and vending machines is an important step for public health that will help consumers make informed choices for themselves and their families.”

Registered dietician and Steinhardt graduate student Samantha Haber said she believes the policy will be beneficial.

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“I do think it will help Americans consume fewer calories,” Haber said. “I think a lot of research is showing that when people see the nutrition information on the foods they’re eating, it helps them make better choices.”

Brian Elbel, an associate professor at the NYU School of Medicine who studies the effect of public policies on individual decision-making, said the correlation between the establishment of the FDA rules and the impact on consumer behavior is hard to measure.

“In general, what we know about the effects in this labeling comes from studies mostly of fast-food restaurants and mostly over the short-term, and what we know from those studies is that there is a subset of consumers who definitely report seeing the information and that it influences their choices,” Elbel said. “But what we don’t necessarily see is that that translates into any overall population level decrease in the number of calories that people are purchasing.”

Steinhardt sophomore McKenzie O’McFee said displaying calorie counts would help her lead a healthier lifestyle. 

“I think it’s a good idea because it forces you to like know what you are putting into your body and forces you to eat healthy,” O’McFee said.

Steinhardt sophomore Kevin Hyde also expressed his support for caloric information on the menus.

“I think it’s a good idea because it provides a greater sense of transparency between a consumer and the retailer,” Hyde said.

Steinhardt junior Pooja Dhar, however, said there are many other factors involved in determining what makes a healthy decision.

“I don’t think that it’s going to be helpful because I think people need to look at the other nutritional content in the food rather than just the calories,” Dhar said. “While you fixate on the calories, you might not necessarily make healthy decisions.”

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Dec. 4 print edition. Email Christine Park at [email protected]

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