Law making calorie count hard to ignore good for health of the nation

A new nationwide standard for restaurant food labeling has been set. This supersedes the current patchwork of state and city laws.

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The new health-care reform law, all 2,400 pages of it, makes sweeping changes that go beyond insurance, hospitals and medicine.

And at least one of the changes is a clear winner.

Under the new law, calorie counts and nutritional information at chain restaurants must be made available and posted where customers can actually see them.

The new law, which applies to any restaurant with 20 or more locations, directs the Food and Drug Administration to create a new national standard for menu labeling, Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported. This supersedes a growing number of state and city laws.

As a result, more than 200,000 fast food and other chain restaurants will have to include calorie counts on menus and drive-through menu boards.

Now, we generally bristle at laws that impose feel-good mandates on private employers. But this mandate has merit for several reasons.

First, it was supported by the National Restaurant Association. The patchwork of state and city laws mandating how the food must be labeled created an added expense and headaches for the restaurants. They would have to have different signs and labels for each state and then sometimes different ones for cities within those states.

"That growing patchwork of regulations and legislation in different parts of the country has been a real challenge, and this will allow operators to better be able to provide their information," said Sue Hensley of the National Restaurant Association.

Second, and most important, easy access to this information will spur some people to make better personal food choices that will ultimately improve their health. This law will do more than create the illusion of feeling good, it will actually help people become healthier.

Under this law the calorie count and nutritional information will be at hand when the ordering decisions are made.

Frankly, this information is a good customer service. We would hope that all restaurants, not just those that fall under the mandate, would provide it for at least some of their regular menu items

Ultimately, having this information benefits the public.

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