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New FDA regulations on calorie count spur debate among consumers, businesses

In a country where it’s easier — and cheaper — for many to dine on a bacon, cheese and chicken patty sandwich or a bread bowl stuffed with cheesy pasta, perhaps it is no surprise that more than one-third of American adults are obese, according to the Journal of American Medicine. As waistlines expand, the subjects of dietary and lifestyle choices weigh a heavy concern nationwide.

In an effort to combat the obesity epidemic, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is now requiring food establishments with 20 or more locations to list the calorie count of each option on their menus, according to a Nov. 25 press release. This law encompasses restaurants, grocery stores, convenience stores, vending machines and attractions such as movie theaters and amusement parks.

The regulation, which is part of the stipulations of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, was finalized on Nov. 25. Restaurants will have until December 2015 to adopt the standard and vending machine operators will have until 2016, the release stated.

Restaurants and other eateries with more than 20 locations must provide calorie information of their products by Dec. 1, 2015, according to regulations announced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Nov. 25. GRAPHIC BY EMILY ZABOSKI/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
Restaurants and other eateries with more than 20 locations must provide calorie information of their products by Dec. 1, 2015, according to regulations announced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Nov. 25. GRAPHIC BY EMILY ZABOSKI/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Amidst public outcry of these regulations from consumers and businesses alike comes the discovery of a “lost pleasure” analysis conducted by the FDA that predicts consumers will suffer more than $5 billion in lost pleasure over 20 years following the passing of the calorie-count regulations, according to a Monday Reuters article.

The analysis balances the consumer benefits of eating healthier with the withdrawal those consumers might feel when they give up their favorite junk foods. But is this loss enough to abandon the pursuit of a healthier America?

“A lot of chain restaurants are already providing information, and we’re working with a lot of industry groups, like the National Restaurant Association, to help the industry comply with requirements,” said Jennifer Dooren, spokeswoman for the FDA. “So the FDA in the coming weeks will be putting out additional guidance for the industry and will be working with industry groups to transition.”

While some organizations, such as the National Restaurant Association, have been receptive to the law, other food industry players have opposed it. Pizza chains, such as collegiate favorite Domino’s Pizza, have been among the detractors, petitioning for the right to list calorie information by slice rather than by the entire pie, The Boston Globe reported on Nov. 25.

“In the law, we have written that they [pizza chains] should provide calories for the whole food, the whole pizza,” Dooren said. “We told the pizza industry that they should provide calories by slice and provide how many slices are in that pizza.”

The new regulations are equally divisive among consumers. Joan Salge Blake, nutrition professor at the Boston University’s Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, said the changes will be beneficial, even for large businesses.

“This is an absolutely fabulous opportunity for restaurants to say, ‘OK, we’re going to put on a menu item that may be a fair amount of calories, but we’re going to offer one that will be as tasty for less calories,’” she said. “It’s all about a variety, and it’s all about a choice.”

Blake said this kind of nutritional information transparency enables consumers to make healthier dietary choices.

“It’ll allow customers at these kinds of restaurants with 20 or more locations to know what the content of their food is prior to placing an order,” she said. “You shop based upon price, and some people maybe shop based upon calories.”

Monica Eng, a SAR sophomore, said she was not interested in seeing the calories on menus.

“For me, counting calories is one of the serious ways to have an eating disorder. And just think, if you count your calories, it can consume your life,” she said. “That’s something I would never want to get into.”

Samantha Shapiro, a SAR sophomore, said she wouldn’t want to know exact calorie counts after already making dietary decisions.

“If I’m willingly eating something unhealthy, then I probably don’t want to know,” she said.

Despite their hesitations with the FDA’s decision, both students said the calorie counts could be beneficial to some people.

“I do think it’s a good idea for people who are trying to lose weight or trying to watch what they eat and eat healthier,” Eng said. “A lot of times, when you go to restaurants, you honestly have no idea [of the nutritional information of the food]. But it doesn’t necessarily need to be posted on the menus.”

Dooren said she is confident that the regulations could become more acceptable as the regulations are worked on in the next year.

“Since a lot of restaurants in the industry are doing this, we expect the rest will do so too. It will be a case-by-case basis,” she said. “It’s hard to speculate because it’s more than a year away. It’s typical of the FDA to do things on a case-by-case basis, depending on the situation.”

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