Nutrition Info on Menus: Coming Soon?
Calorie, Fat, Sodium Content May Appear on Fast Food, Restaurant Menus
Nov. 5, 2003 -- Cheese fries: 3,010 calories. Bloomin' Onion:
2,130 calories. Buffalo wings: 1,750 calories. If you knew the numbers, would
you still eat it?
New legislation introduced today in Congress -- called the Menu
Education and Labeling (MEAL) bill -- would require many restaurants and fast
food chains, including Starbucks, Taco Bell, and Burger King, to list calorie
counts on menu boards.
The law would also require table-service chains (with more than
20 locations) -- such as TGI Friday's, IHOP, Red Lobster, and Pizza Hut -- to
list calories, saturated fat plus trans fat, carbohydrates, and sodium on
From Applebee's to Wendy's, fast food restaurants could be
wrangled in to the movement to slim down America.
"No one would mistake cheese fries with ranch dressing for
a health food, but few would guess that a typical serving uses up more than a
whole day's worth of calories," says a new report from the nonprofit Center
for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
In fact, two-thirds of Americans say they want that
information, according to a recent CSPI survey.
20 Zillion Fat Grams Served
Americans get about one-third of their calories from outside
the home, the CSPI reports. They're also eating out twice as often as they did
in 1970. Restaurant foods are an important contributor to rising rates of
overweight and obesity.
Since 1986, some fast food chains such as McDonald's have
provided nutrition information. In 1990, when legislation required
manufacturers of packaged foods to list nutrition information, the restaurant
industry won a special exemption, says the CSPI.
"Most of the chain restaurants don't provide nutrition
information, and those that do make it hard to find, hard to read, or available
only on web sites," says Margo G. Wootan, CSPI's nutrition policy director,
in a prepared statement. "People have good nutrition information in
supermarkets, but people can only guess what they're eating at chain
Studies have shown that when people eat at fast food
restaurants, they consume more calories and saturated fat, fewer nutrients such
as calcium, and less fiber when they eat out. Children eat almost twice as many
calories in an average restaurant meal than in a home-cooked meal.
Many of these meals, appetizers, snacks, and drinks provide a
full day's worth of calories -- and in some cases even more.
Children between 2 and 6 years old, women, and some older
adults should get about 1,600 calories a day, according to the American
Dietetic Association and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Older children,
teen girls, and most men should get about 2,200 calories. Teen boys and active
men should get about 2,800 calories,
Some menu items have more calories and fat than anyone would
imagine, says Wootan. "Who would guess that a drink can pack the calories
of a whole meal? A large shake at McDonald's has over a thousand calories, 35%
more than a hamburger, small fries, plus small Coke."