Counting calories? NYC labeling rule will help

Some people might not want to know what they put in their bodies when they wolf down that Big Mac, fries and soda but for the ones who do care (at least in New York City), it just got much easier. A federal judge ruled that certain fast-food and chain restaurants in New York City must comply with a requirement to disclose calorie information on their menus. The ruling is important because it paves the way for other cities to follow the Big Apple’s lead with labeling ordinances of their own. That can only be good news for the fast-food nation.

Public Citizen attorney Deepak Gupta who filed a brief in support of NYC’s labeling ordinance and made oral arguments in the case, said the judge’s decision was a great win for consumers:

Judge Holwell’s decision sets an important precedent that public health officials can look to as they draft similar regulations or legislation. Consumers need this type of nutrition information so they can make healthy decisions when they dine out.

Chain restaurants with more than 15 locations, such as Subway, McDonald’s, Olive Garden and Applebee’s, must list on their menu boards or menus the number of calories each item contains, as scary as that might be.

NYC is not the only city helping health-conscious residents navigate the calorie counts of menu items. Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco also recently signed a similar regulation, requiring restaurants to label their menus. Hopefully this will encourage California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to make this a state law, said Margo G. Wootan, nutrition policy director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, in an online statement:

It’s hard to imagine that not many years ago, packaged foods in the supermarket did not have to bear the standardized, easy-to-read Nutrition Facts labels. We’re optimistic that twenty years from now, it will be hard to believe that calorie counts were confined to web sites and tray liners, and absent from menus and menu boards.

The federal law requiring nutrition information on packaged food, by the way, was the work of the late Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, a former member of Public Citizen’s board of directors.

But why stop there? The Healthy Recipe Doctor, a blog from the popular Web site WebMD, wondered why the judge only ruled to disclose calorie information in NYC. King County, Washington, for example, is proposing regulations that would reveal other nutrition information, such as fat grams, saturated fast grams, and carbohydrate grams.