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Health Care Reform Bill Changes Fast Food Menus

By Sierra Black |

42711932_63275a104a_mAttention fast food lovers: your days of blissful ignorance about the calories in that McShake are numbered.

A provision in the health care reform bill will require fast food restaurants to post prominent calorie counts next to all their menu items. At more than 200,000 fast food drive thrus and chain restaurants, we’ll have to swallow the calorie numbers before biting into our fries.

The goal, of course, is to make us think twice before ordering those fries, or the burger they accompany. It’s also a way to shine a light on differences in fast food items. Coffee drinks can range from 20 calories to over 800. That’s a big gap to swallow as we choose our morning kick start. It might lead more than a few of us to forgo the lattes and start appreciating our coffee black again.

Or it might not. Calorie and nutrition information is readily available on all the packaged snack foods we buy at the grocery store, and we still load up on empty calories, to the point where some kids are getting almost a third of their calories from sugar, fats and empty starches.

Clearly, knowing is no more than half the battle. It’s unclear how much the new calorie information will affect diners’ choices. But it does give us more power to choose the healthier items.

This new regulation was supported by the restaurant industry. They prefer a national standard to the patchwork of state and local regulations that was beginning to emerge. The new rules also cover food sold in vending machines.

Will knowing how many calories are in your breakfast muffin make you choose lighter fare? Or is the new rule robbing us of the guilty pleasure of eating out?

Photo: Ebruli

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About Sierra Black


Sierra Black

Sierra Black lives, writes and raises her kids in the Boston area. She loves irreverence, hates housework and wants to be a writer and mom when she grows up. Read bio and latest posts → Read Sierra's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “Health Care Reform Bill Changes Fast Food Menus

  1. PlumbLucky says:

    Anyone know if this applies to sit down chains too? That’s my biggest complaint is that there are a few offenders who you simply cannot find calorie counts for.
    Myself – I’ve always been a numbers checker. Give me data, science, and more data, and let me derive my conclusion. Don’t sell me an ad paid for by the Corn Refiners association that says HFCS is okay in moderation. Let me see some science. The places that already give me data? I’m more likely to double check my choice based on the counts given. Its a rare day when I crave something obnoxious anyways, but I’m a little more cautious when I know just how bad “obnoxious” is.

  2. John says:

    When I do go into these places, it’s always with the best intentions. I tell myself I’m getting the salad and end up getting the cheeseburger meal. Perhaps if I do see the calories up front, it’ll alter my menu choices a bit. That said, people generally know that fast food chains don’t offer a lot of healthy fare, which is the appeal, I guess. I don’t eat nearly as much fast food as I used to which is just a combination of maturity, health concerns, and wanting to set a good example for my son. Maybe if he sees me eating more salads and fewer burgers, he’ll be inclined to do the same.

  3. Eric says:

    Of course the challege of sit down resteraunts is many are small and locally owned. Its hard to justify the cost of testing to determine caloric content of your new fish dish when you’re barely scraping by. You can estimate based on ingrediants, but would that be good enough?

  4. Sierra Black says:

    @Plumblucky: it’s any restaurant with more than 25 locations, I think. So, the Olive Garden would have to post calorie counts, but your local Italian place won’t.

  5. PlumbLucky says:

    @Sierra – thank you. I have a mite bit more trust in the local mom and pops. Maybe founded in reality, maybe in hope. Wasn’t Olive Garden and its siblings one of the worst offenders for non-availability of calorie counts (I don’t really feel like running out in the cold rain to grab Eat This, Not That from the glovebox. Yes, I do keep it there.)
    @Eric – I meant mainly chains. I can somewhat guess that a fried fish sandwich is going to be far worse for me than a broiled one at our local diner. :-) Granted, our local diner has a pretty clean cut menu that tells you what it is you’re getting and how its prepared in the name. (Kinda like ordering “rum and coke” as opposed to ordering “a dirty girl scout” at the bar – hey, I was a bartender at one point, it seems like a good way to explain. You know what’s in the first drink. Unless you know what you’re ordering, you don’t know immediately with the second.)

  6. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    I used to love rum and cokes… are those really the same thing as a “dirty girl scout??” I’d google it, but I do NOT want to see what the results would come up with!

  7. PlumbLucky says:

    @M_S – NO, definitely not the same! But you know what a rum and coke is from the name, you have to google a DGS (I’ll spare you the google porn – its equal parts vodka, white creme de menthe, kahlua, and baileys). Kind of like I don’t have to google my local diner’s broiled cod sandwich on rye bread :-) . But I would have to google any given dish at Applebees or whereever.

  8. Eric says:

    I don’t know, Applebee’s is a bad example isn’t it? If you have a paragraph on your menu describing each item (some even have pictures), you’d have to have a pretty good idea of whats in it. I just really dislike the ‘food police’ aspect of this. Requiring ‘fast food’ restaurants, who already make their nutritional information available, post the information in a particular place to bully people into not eating their food is not really a place for the federal government in my mind. I think once you decide that the government knows better than individual people how to run their lives, and its okay to use the government to bully, coerce, or force those people to live their lives differently; there’s really no end to that rabbit hole.

  9. BlackOrchid says:

    Eric – you said a mouthful there. And we’re already down the rabbit hole. Wonderland beckons!

  10. Kikiriki says:

    Eric – I don’t see how this can possibly be construed as the goverment ‘bullying’ people into eating differently. There’s no hamburger prohibition going on. What is happening is that restaurants will now be required to prominently display the nutritional information so that people can make a truly informed choice. Even with a description of the food, it can sometimes be hard to really know what’s in this stuff. I am pretty savvy about what I put into my body and even I was surprised, for instance, that the whole grain bread in an Arby’s market fresh sandwich had more calories than the bread in their regular roast beef sandwich. Not only that, but I have asked for the nutritional info sheet at certain fast-food restaurants only to be told that they were ‘out’ or that nobody could find them. Having nutritional information readily available, out in the open instead of hidden beneath the counter, gives the consumer the option of looking at what he or she is about to order and choosing based on that information. The government isn’t going to force anyone to LOOK at the information. But if noticing the fat content in a Ruby Tuesday hamburger (76 grams of fat on average per burger) makes some people opt out, that might not be such a bad thing.

  11. jenny tries too hard says:

    I have to say this doesn’t bug me that much. It’s not taxing certain foods differently, or restricting them—just full disclosure. Yes, it sucks that this is one more expense for businesses, but I’m not too worked up about it here. The government’s not trying (yet) to take away my tater tots (damn you, Sonic) so I’ll reserve energy for when they start trying to.

  12. Eric says:

    Kikiriki – Could you see it as coercion then? Our mandate that you now buy health insurance is certainly bullying. Do it or pay a tax. Certainly they aren’t going to display ALL the nutritional information about a product right? There’s not enough room on the wall for all that. So we’re going to have to choose. Who chooses? The government. There are a lot of different diets out there, and a great deal of debate as to what dangers there are out there and what is really good for you. I would encourage people to be informed about what they eat. If you want to see more nutrional information displayed, ask for it. Tell other people to do the same. Don’t ask the government to force someone else to do something for your convenience, or else ‘someday’ that ‘someone’ is going to be you. A lot of this health care reform bill is nanny statery at its best. You want people to eat better so you: mandate a business to display certain nutrional info designed to ward people off, prohibit manufacturers from advertising to children, require people to buy an insurance plan they may or may not want. At the end of the day people do what they want despite whatever you legislate. You can’t control a populace from the top down this way. Convince people to take interest in their own food, and help them to be informed consumers. Don’t attempt to legislate people into doing what you deem ‘best’ for them. If you don’t call it ‘bullying’ call it ‘coercion’ or ‘encouragement’ or ‘informing’ but its still an attempt at control.

  13. Maureen says:

    Having the nutritional information there works for me…
    My family recently went to IHOP for dinner for the first time and I was horrified when I looked at the menu. The nutritional information was listed next to everything. I decided to order a veggie burger dry with no fries and a water. Every other single thing on the menu horrified me. It’s one thing to know that a burger and fries is no good for you, but it’s another thing to see 1300 calories staring you in the face. So, yes, it’s a good thing for my heart (and my wallet) but I’ll miss my ignorance.

  14. Manjari says:

    I seek out the nutritional information whenever I can when we eat out. I would love for that to be easier and more convenient.

  15. Theresa says:

    Well intentioned stupidity! Dieting isn’t rocket science. Eat less,exercise more. You know that whole milk mocha cappuccino has mega calories in it. You don’t need the government to mandate the restaurant to put the calories next to it on the menus. The restaurant will just use it as an excuse to charge you more.

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