What if the next time you opened your menu at your favorite restaurant, you listed the nutritional information — calories, fat, sodium, etc. — right there for you to consider? Would you still order Houston’s Grilled Chicken Salad (34 grams fat) or Macaroni Grill’s Salmon (1160 calories, 25 grams fat, and 1240 mg sodium!)? How about Chili’s Chocolate Molten Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream (1270 calories and 62 grams fat)? Do these numbers surprise you? Or would you rather not know?
New labeling rules coming into effect this year will require restaurants with 20 or more outlets operating under the same name to include nutritional information on their menus.
Why does the government think it is important that you know this? Michael Taylor, FDA Assistant Commissioner for Food, calls the “major obesity problem in this country, which is due in part to excess calorie consumption outside the home.”
As most of us know, being overweight comes with its own problems, such as: B. an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and many types of cancer. In fact, obesity is overtaking tobacco as the number one cause of preventable death in the United States.
Today, 63% of American adults are either overweight or obese. If we keep increasing, obesity will cost the US an estimated $344 billion in medical expenses by 2018.
Can you already see the domino effect here? weight, there is more.
Obese patients spend an average of US$1,429 (42%) more on medical care each year than those of a healthy weight. Health economist Eric Finkelstein, co-author of The Fattening of America, says medical costs won’t go down unless Americans “lose weight by improving their eating and exercise patterns.”
So will the new nutritional labeling requirements help? Proponents, including myself, believe that if you know what’s in your food, you’re more likely to make better choices about what to put in your mouth and therefore stand a better chance of avoiding the obesity trap. However, many restaurants are concerned that knowing the nutritional truth will keep you from coming back.
Houston’s, a popular restaurant chain with 30 locations across the US, seems to think you can’t handle the truth. Instead of reprinting nutritional information menus, the chain is changing its name. That’s correct; Houston’s is renaming 11 of its locations with the new Hillstone name, giving up 34 years of brand equity in its name to circumvent the new law. That way, diners can continue to enjoy their spinach dip and ribs without the burden of knowing what the calorie cost is.
So I ask you again: is ignorance bliss, or would you rather know?
You might think that all this government intervention is just too much. But what if it really could save lives, not to mention millions (billions) of our taxpayers? Let’s consider two cases.
When seat belt legislation went into effect in 1984, you may recall that critics vehemently argued about restrictions on our civil liberties. People were outraged that the government was telling us what to do in our own cars. Well, statistics released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that seat belt legislation has reduced the number of injuries in traffic accidents by 45% and the number of fatalities from car accidents by 50%. And for a country that can’t afford it, the annual medical costs from accidents are about $11 billion, rising to $70 billion when productivity losses are factored in. Imagine what that cost would be without seat belt laws.
On the other hand, how effective has tobacco legislation been? Cigarette advertising on television and radio was banned in 1970 when approximately 50% of Americans smoked. Warning labels on cigarette packs first appeared 46 years ago, and yes, we’ve seen a steady decline in smoking over the last four decades. Today, 20% of Americans still smoke; While that’s still a significant number, it’s less than half of smokers in their 70s. (The FDA has proposed new, larger warning labels designed to cover 50% of packaging. Will these have a greater effect on smoking reduction?)
But cigarettes and chocolate cake aren’t the same… are they? Sugar has been shown to be highly addictive, and despite the “fun” image of a sugary dessert, too much sugar can lead to serious health risks.
Maybe something really wonderful will happen with the new menu label; Perhaps, given new labeling laws and better-informed consumers, food companies and restaurants will offer healthier options. Now that would be a reason to go out to dinner and celebrate.
What do you think?