The 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires that restaurants with 20 or more locations list the calorie content of standard menu items. The law also states that more detailed nutrient information should be made available in writing upon request. Restaurants with fewer than 20 locations can voluntarily register to be subject to the new law, otherwise they are exempt, and are subject to state and local guidelines only.
Restaurant labeling guidelines were added to the Affordable Care Act as part of the American government’s campaign against obesity. The Center for Disease Control estimates that 68 percent of adults and 32 percent of children between the ages of 2-19 years old are obese. Adult obesity increases the risk of a number of diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and some cancers.
The primary risk factors for overweight and obesity in the U.S. population are overeating and too little exercise. Americans consume about one-third of their calories and about half of their food budget on food consumed away from home. Studies show that consumers are more unaware of the calorie content of restaurant foods. It is hoped that restaurant labeling will inform consumers and help them make better choices.
The FDA is responsible for translating the Affordable Care Act guidance into specific regulations. The FDA released proposed rules in April of 2011. The comment period is now closed and the final regulations were expected at the end of 2013 or the first quarter of 2014. The FDA has proposed that the final rules become effective six months after they are released.
The proposed regulations list the FDA’s initial thoughts in implementing the guidelines outlined by the Affordable Care Act. They cite the pros and cons of various ideas and propose solutions to some of the decision points. Here are some of the decisions the FDA is leaning towards:
- The FDA is proposing that calories listed on menus and menu boards be listed to the nearest 5 calories up to 50 calories, and to the nearest 10 calories above 50 calories. Foods fewer than five calories may report zero.
- In order for consumers to understand the posted calories in relation to their total daily diet, the FDA is considering having this statement required on food menus and menu boards: “A 2,000 calorie daily diet is used as the basis for general nutrition advice; however, individual calorie needs may vary.”
- The FDA is proposing that restaurants make available to consumers, printed product information that includes these nutrients: calories, fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, fiber, sugar, and protein. Foods that contain insignificant amounts of 6 or more of these nutrients, can report a simplified nutrient list: calories, fat, carbohydrates, protein, and sodium.
- The FDA is considering how to best handle the listing of calories on menus and menu boards for variable menu items, which are single items that offer different flavors, varieties or combinations. The FDA is considering averages, ranges or other methods for displaying the caloric content. The FDA is proposing that the more detailed nutrient information be listed for each variety, flavor and food component of the combination meal, however, for optimal clarity.
To learn more about the Menu Labeling Regulations, check out our eBook, Restaurant Menu Labeling | What You Need to Know