Some health officials and politicians want Americans to know exactly how many nutrients are packed into our favorite items on restaurant menus. So last week, federal legislation was introduced that would force restaurants to label their menus with total fat, calories, and sodium content in each item. It’s an effort to help Americans slim down their waistlines and shape up their hearts.
Connecticut Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro introduced the bill last Wednesday in the House. They’re calling it the Menu Education and Labeling or MEAL bill, and Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin said he would introduce a similar measure in the Senate.
The bill applies to restaurant chains with 20 or more franchises, such as McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Pizza Hut. It would require establishments like these to list fat, calories, and sodium content of every item on their standard menu.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is also in favor of labeling menus along with the prices of each item. They claim that in order for consumers to make informed choices they need to know the cost to their wallets as well as their waistlines.
The organization blames the concept of "super sizing" for Americans’ rising rate of obesity. In a written statement, they provided many examples of how for a few extra pennies fast food diners are getting several hundred extra calories—and they probably don’t even know it.
"Moving from a small to a medium bag of movie theater popcorn costs an average of 71 cents—and 500 calories," stated CSPI. "A 23% increase in price provides 125% more calories plus two days’ worth of artery-clogging saturated fat."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 15 percent of children and 60 percent of adults are now overweight. Studies have shown that being overweight raises one’s risk for heart disease, diabetes, and some forms of cancer.
The CSPI notes that the average person’s daily calorie intake rose by 167 calories between 1978 to 1995—from 1,876 to 2,043 calories. If those extra calories aren’t burned off by exercise, then you could be packing on an extra pound each month.
The restaurant industry says the bill is unnecessary, and that it’s individual’s lack of exercise to blame for the fattening of America.
The 1990 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act put nutritional labels on packaged foods, such as those in grocery stores, but restaurants were excluded.
The American Heart Association is already involved in the labeling trade by lending its stamp of approval to selected heart healthy foods. The distinctive heart-check mark on a package assures you that a food item meets criteria for heart healthy levels of fat, saturated fat and cholesterol for healthy people over age 2.