After McDonald's, Starbucks posts calorie counts nationwide

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One step behind Mc Donald’s but still ahead of the law, Starbucks just started posting calorie counts on all its menu boards nationwide. This measure precedes federal regulations expected to try and curb obesity, based on the idea that an informed population would make healthier food choices.

Almost 3 years ago, President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, which will require both restaurant chains with more than 20 locations and vending machine operators with more than 20 machines, to post calorie information. The FDA expects the regulations to be ready this year and implemented late 2014. McDonald’s took the lead and started posting calories on its menus across the country last year, quickly followed by smaller chains like Panera.

Americans consume an estimated 1/3 of their calorie intake on meals prepared out of home, meals that cost them 1/2 of their food dollars. Unlike packaged foods that are labeled with nutrition facts, most menu items in restaurants do not have calorie counts readily available when you order. And data show that obese Americans consume an extra 100 calories per meal when eating out. So this rule will provide calorie counts for all foods customers are choosing from, enabling them to make healthier choices.

The question is: Is this going to make a notable difference? This FDA nationwide calorie-count mandate is not even out yet that public health experts already question its purpose. Is simply confronting people with the amount of calories they are about to order enough of an incentive to durably switch diet habits?

Stemming the national obesity epidemic does seem like a lofty goal. Several articles (see this New York Times column) report that studies conducted in cities like New York and Philadelphia that have required calorie counts for a few years now, show small to non-existent variations in food selection. But, that’s where one has to rejoice around the possibility of a small improvement vs doing nothing, because the obesity epidemic is such a complicated public health crisis, that there is not one single magic solution anyway.

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When eating out, we all unconsciously make shorthand calorie count assumptions when staring at a menu. The hope via mandatory calorie posting is that we’ll start confronting our guesses to hard facts, and take it from there. Did you know a 20oz Starbucks double chocolate chip frappuccino has 120 more calories than a Big Mac? The first time you see this, you may still order that super charged drink. But over time, you may switch to a lower calorie count drink.

Now the real hurdle is for the FDA to get over the lobbying pressure slowing it down, and actually get the measure out as planned. Obviously, it is not in those retailers’ interest to display such information and some of them are pushing back hard…

  • Do you think the availability of calorie count could influence what you are ordering when eating out?

Let us know… 

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