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Federal Appeals Court’s Decision on New York Fast-Food Menu Rule Is A Major Victory in the Fight Against Obesity

Feb. 17, 2009   

Federal Appeals Court’s Decision on New York Fast-Food Menu Rule Is A Major Victory in the Fight Against Obesity

Statement of Deepak Gupta, Attorney, Public Citizen

Public Citizen is delighted that a federal appeals court has decided to uphold New York City’s landmark fast-food menu rule, which requires chain restaurants to disclose calorie information on their menus. Today’s decision is a major victory in the fight against the obesity epidemic. It protects consumers’ right to know important nutritional facts and make informed and healthy choices when they eat out. The ruling is also significant because it clears the way for many similar state and local laws throughout the nation, such as those recently passed by the state of California and the city of Philadelphia.

The fast-food industry had asked the court to strike down New York’s rule, claiming that it was pre-empted by a 1990 federal nutrition labeling law and that it violated the First Amendment. Public Citizen filed a brief opposing those arguments, representing a broad coalition that included U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif. and the lead sponsor of the 1990 law), former FDA Commissioner David Kessler, the American Medical Association, and many other health groups and experts. Today’s decision echoes many of the arguments made in Public Citizen’s brief.

“In requiring chain restaurants to post calorie information on their menus,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit concluded, “New York City merely stepped into a sphere that Congress intentionally left open to state and local governments.” The court also observed that eating out is a major contributor to obesity and that consumers are typically unable to assess the caloric content of foods. They do not realize, for example, that a smoked turkey sandwich at Chili’s (930 calories) contains more calories than a sirloin steak (540 calories), or that two jelly donuts from Dunkin Donuts have fewer calories than a sesame bagel with cream cheese. 

Read the documents related to the case.