One More Time: Calorie Information Posting

Calorie Information Posting

Over the course of the last three years, I have written a number of columns about tipping, minimum wages, independents, chains, the impact of social media, and, last but not least, the pending Food and Drug Administration’s menu posting rules.

Most times, I stated that they were to be implemented in the next six months, and once they were postponed for a year. Well, like the bride waiting for the groom at the church, they finally showed up in May 2018. And as expected, they include alcoholic beverages.

Before I moved on, I was still trying to figure out how this requirement was ever slipped into the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as ObamaCare. Then I discovered that the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) was able to convince the FDA to include alcoholic drinks as well. More on their objectives later.

As most of you know, there are jurisdictions where the chains have been posting calorie information for both food and, voluntarily, for alcoholic beverages. Let’s see what they probably will look like on most menus.

In an article on the subject in the Wall Street Journal, by Saabira Chaudhuri, nine drinks and their calories are listed as follows: “Applebee’s ‘Perfect’ Margarita, 310; Chili’s Premium Long Island Iced Tea, 290; Gordon’s London Dry gin and Schweppes tonic, 202; Lagunitas IPA, 190; Bud Light, 110; Blossom Hill California White, 105; Smirnoff No. 21 Red vodka and club soda, 98; Johnnie Walker Black Label on the rocks, 98; and Campo Viejo Rioja, 97. Note: Calories shown are per standard drink size. Wine is 5 oz., beer is 12 oz. and spirit shots are 1.5 oz. Source: Drinkaware (an industry-funded U.K. alcohol education nonprofit), Chili’s, Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, Applebee’s, Diageo.”

The article continued: “Public-health researchers hope the new requirement will not only raise awareness but also spur drinkers to cut back. ‘If you don’t want to get the 400 calories from an alcoholic beverage, you can easily swap for free water,” said Margo G. Wootan, vice president for nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based consumer-advocacy group that lobbied the FDA to include alcoholic drinks in the new rules.

“Studies have found calorie counts can influence food choices. Cochrane, a health-focused research network, last month published findings showing that when food calories are disclosed on menus, diners’ orders have 7.8% fewer calories.”

China VMF December 2018 728×90

I offer the following in rebuttal: I wonder if any of the jurisdictions that have passed or are considering passing menu labeling have read this piece, reported by United Press International: “University of Vermont researchers found significant numbers of people do not look at food labels and many are unable to use the information the labels contain. Telephone surveys of more than 600 U.S. adults and more than 300 college students found that approximately half of the surveyed college students and one-third of the individuals in the community sample reported that they did not generally look at food labels,” according to the researchers.

“The surveys found that two-thirds of the participants were unable to identify the number of calories they should be consuming each day, 44 percent to 57 percent of the combined self-reported that they would not likely use restaurant food caloric information,” the researchers said. The findings published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association suggests that legislation for nutrition and calories on menus “may not be particularly effective in combating the obesity epidemic if people are not looking at existing food labels and are not able to use this information for nutrition planning.”

Please note that neither the surveys nor the reporting of them was associated with a commercial food company or trade group, which enhances their nonpartisan credibility. Also note that participants were adults and college students, groups that seemingly would be more concerned about the surveys’ subject matter. Obviously, they were not.

To sum up, the Cochrane-published report stated “that when calorie information is disclosed on menus, diners’ orders have 7.8% fewer calories.” Compare that with the University of Vermont’s report: “Researchers found significant numbers of people look at food labels and are unable to use the information the labels contain.”

It is the findings published by the American Dietetic Association that—to the best of my knowledge—the Center for Science in the Public Interest has never responded to: “Legislation for nutrition and calorie information labeling on menus may not be particularly effective in combating the obesity epidemic if people are not looking at existing food labels and are not able to use this information for nutrition planning.”

To those who take solace in the fact that only chains will be affected, I submit to you that the CSPI is dedicated to the proposition that it will not be satisfied until every full-service food outlet is covered by calorie posting.

As more and more outlets do post this calorie information, the public will start to look for it and, like the supermarkets and the chains, you will find yourself posting it.

Fred G. Sampson
Fred G. Sampson is the retired President Emeritus of the New York State Restaurant Association. He began working with NYSRA in 1961. Within the next four years the NYSRA more than tripled its membership and expanded from one regional chapter to eight. Sampson played roles in representing restaurants on issues including paid sick leave, minimum wage, liquor laws, a state-wide alcohol training program and insurance plans. Comments may be sent to fredgsampson@juno.com