A First for the U.S.: Calories Listed on Menu

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As the problem of obesity, or simply being overweight, never seems to cease in America, one group of lawmakers has tried a tactic through policy. They have forced all chain restaurants to inform customers of the calories of each dish, right on the menu. Name, ingredients, price, calorie content.

Where this has happened is a big part of the story: New York City. It becomes the first U.S. city to take this step, which is attempting to influence people to change their dietary habits. If it says “cheddar cheese hamburger,” that is one thing. What if it says “cheddar cheese hamburger, 600 calories?”

For that, we will have to wait and see.

On July 19, 2008, all New York City health inspectors had the power to levy fines up to $2,000 against both fast food and casual dining chains if their owners were not obeying the new calorie law. The calorie count of each item must not only be visible, but must also be the same size and font as the name of the food!

The Big Apple appears to be on the forefront of the forceful attempt to make its residents’ lifestyles healthier. Its 2003 ban on smoking in public places made it one of the earliest major cities to take that step. And earlier this year, city officials decided to ban trans fats — hydrogenated fat that has been firmly linked to serious heart problems.

Reuters reports that the law will affect such famous food institutions as McDonald’s; Burger King; Applebee’s, operated by DineEquity Inc; Dunkin Donuts; Starbucks and Subway. They also report that the new law may not do much at all. After all, when one purchases a donut or a quarter-pound of hamburger meat slathered in salt-filled condiments, the amount of calories in it is not much of an issue. The move may have the effect of awful images posted on cigarette packs around the world: creating the opportunity for jokes.

But the city lawmakers are correct in that many consumers do not know the calories they consume. People who may have trouble shedding pounds can look to many things they eat and drink as having hidden calories, or simply far more calories than they would have expected. And the long-term solution to reducing the waistline is clear cut: Burn more calories than you take in. And that rolls into the exercise and healthy eating solution.

A 2007 study found that 30% of New York residents were taking in more than 1,000 calories at lunch. That’s about half of the entire day’s amount. Throw in a morning and afternoon snack, along with breakfast, and people are over their daily amount before dinner hour hits. The city says that, at minimum, the new law could prevent 150,000 from becoming obese and another 30,000 from developing type 2 diabetes in the next five years.