Making Healthier Choices, One Calorie Count at a Time

By Narrelle Gilchrist

When your plate arrives at a restaurant, it is usually piled high with pasta, vegetables, and meat. Then, your dessert arrives: it is literally a wall of chocolate. Chain restaurants like Cheesecake Factory have become well known for their over-large portions. Meanwhile, obesity is on the rise, especially for adolescents and children. But if you knew that the cookie you ordered had 400 calories, would you be as likely to eat the whole thing? Requiring chain restaurants and vending machine companies to inform consumers about the number of calories in their meals, as an Obama Care mandate will do, would help consumers make healthier choices and reduce obesity, without over-regulating businesses.

In 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obama Care, mandated that chain restaurants provide calorie counts and other nutritional information to all customers. Since then, FDA guidelines have fulfilled this requirement, extending the definition of “chain restaurant” to include any grocery, gas station, movie theater, or vending machines that is part of an establishment that has twenty or more locations. Restaurants were given one year from the publication of the FDA rule on December 1, 2014, to fulfill the requirements, while vending machines were given two. Critics have called for the repeal of the mandate, stating that it is overly regulatory and burdensome to industry, with little positive effects. Contrary to their beliefs, however, evidence has shown that the calorie count mandate, when it is in effect, will have a great, positive impact on public health.

Dawn Sweeney, chief executive of the National Restaurant Association, said that the purpose of calorie count requirements was to ensure that, “anyone dining out can have clear, easy-to-access nutrition information at the point of ordering.” The calorie count mandate does not require consumers to eat lower-calorie foods; it simply educates them on the portion size of what they are ordering. Better-informed consumers are more likely to make healthier choices. Some companies have already required calorie postings, and positive results have been seen. In 2008, a study of one hundred million cash register transactions at Starbucks revealed that after calorie counts were posted, there was a 6% decrease in the average number of calories purchased. In a nation-wide health mandate, even more widespread reductions in calorie consumption will be achieved.

The calorie count mandate, therefore, may help reduce obesity, which is becoming more prevalent in our society every day. Since 1960, obesity rates have more than doubled, and according to the Food Research and Action Center, higher calorie counts are one of the main factors contributing to this increase. Reducing calorie consumption, as the calorie count mandate will do, would thus help to lower obesity rates. The mandate will have an even greater impact because it will focus on meals consumed away from home. According to FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg, Americans consume one-third of their calories away from home. At restaurants, people are likely to eat 200 more calories than they would have consumed in a meal at home, according to a joint study by the American Cancer Society and the Chicago University. A reduction of calories in restaurants, therefore, will have a great effect on the total number of calories consumed.

Despite the regulations and costs to the industry, which opponents feel justify the repeal of the mandate, most restaurants are not protesting the mandate at all, but are already cooperating. Much of the industry does not feel that the mandate is an overregulation at all, for it does not dictate what restaurants are allowed to put in their food, but merely requires them to inform their customers about what they are ordering. Several large chains, including Panera Bread and McDonald’s, have complied with the calorie count requirement already, and 7-Eleven has announced that it is willing to contend with costs because the regulation matches consumers’ needs. Such corporations have shown that they are willing to put the nation’s health above their profits, and others will follow their example.

In conclusion, the calorie count requirement in the Affordable Care Act will help consumers make healthier choices, thus decreasing calorie consumption and lowering obesity rates. By readily providing customers with information about the quality and quantity of what they are eating, restaurants throughout the nation can help Americans make better decisions. The mandate should be left in place for one simple reason: it will benefit the health of the American people.

Works Cited

Chumley, Cheryl K. “Obamacare’s Newest Mandate: Post Calorie Counts for Slushies.” The Washington Post. November 25, 2014. February 6, 2015.

“Factors Contributing to Overweight and Obesity.” Food Research and Action Center. February 6, 2015.

“Food Labeling: Nutrition Labeling of Standard Menu Items in Restaurants and Similar Retail Food Establishments.” Federal Register. November 2014. February 25, 2015.

Newton, Jennifer. “Eating Out Is Worse for Your Waistline than Dining at Home: Average Restaurant Meal Contains 200 Extra Calories – Regardless of Whether It’s Fast Food or Fine Dining.” The Daily Mail. August 8, 2014. February 6, 2015.

Tavernise, Sabrina, and Stephanie Strom. “FDA to Require Calorie Count, Even for Popcorn at the Movies.” The New York Times. November 24th, 2014. February 6th, 2015.

“Questions and Answers on the Menu and Vending Machines Nutrition Labeling Requirements.” FDA. November 26th, 2014. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. February 25th, 2015.

Narrelle is a homeschooled teen from West Palm Beach, Florida. In addition to writing, she enjoys singing in a choir and playing piano, and loves literature, politics, history, astronomy, and physics. 

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