Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Menu Board Calories Arrive in New York

On July 1st, a new regulation passed by the New York Board of Health required chain restaurants to put calories on menu boards. The menu board above is the first to comply and not too surprisingly it comes from Subway, a chain that has long since been banking on nutritional disclosure.

The food industry as a whole however is not as welcoming of this regulation as Subway and in fact most chains are refusing to comply and in fact are busy suing the city in federal court.

In Canada a similar law was rejected by the House last year during its second reading following massive pressure by the food and restaurant industries to reject it.

If passed it would have certainly necessitated significant menu changes when shocked Canadians would have demanded lower calorie options as it doesn’t take a degree in dietetics to recognize that many of the foods that are out there have absolutely astronomical numbers of calories in them.

Back in 2005 I participated in a Think Tank on obesity in Toronto and I asked Sherry MacLauchlan, the Manager of Government Relations for McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada what McDonald’s position on menu board calories were and she responded that McDonald’s felt it would be too confusing to have all those numbers on the menu boards and that they would be impossible to read and navigate through.

It’s an argument that clearly has trickled over to the States as well and the Center for Science in the Public Interest has a great exhibit on it that includes a legal brief from Dunkin’ Donuts regarding New York City’s new regulations that included a mock menu board proving how difficult it would be to fit in calories (see below).

Indeed, in that mock up it is quite difficult.

The Health Department’s in house graphic artist caught wind of this and immediately whipped together a mock up of his own (see below)

Looks pretty easy to follow to me.

The restaurant industry is running scared because at the end of the day, industry, unlike government, responds to demand. In this case the demand will be for lower calorie items that actually taste good. For the industry that’s going to translate into money spent on research and development, and eventually for us it will hopefully be one more step towards a shrinking nation.

For the food industry, ignorance is business, for the public it might be bliss, but for your weight - ignorance is risk.