Thursday, February 4, 2010

Guest Commentary: Taking a "Bite" out of Obesity

Marty Romney, MS, JD, MPH
Project Director
Jefferson School of Population Health

Just how effective will Philadelphia's Menu-Labeling ordinance be in encouraging healthier food selections in chain restaurants? Statistics show the number of meals and money spent for food away from home have increased over the past three decades. Meals away from home are associated with larger portions and foods higher in saturated fats and calories, contributing to the obesity epidemic.

On January 1st, Philadelphia’s “Menu-Labeling” Ordinance, touted as the strictest in the nation, took effect. However, City Council granted restaurants, convenience and ice cream shops, bakeries and delis a one-month reprieve. As of February 1st all “chain restaurants,” defined as retail food establishments with 15 or more locations, must list calorie counts adjacent to items on menu boards and food tags ( Additional nutrition information must be provided upon customer request.

As of April 1, 2010, in addition to calorie counts, individual menus listings in chain restaurants must include the grams of carbohydrates and fat, with milligrams of sodium. The federal recommendations for sodium and fat for a 2000-calorie diet are required as well. The exceptions to the ordinance are "specials or items offered fewer than 30 days, sealed package with federal labeling, customer special requests and complimentary condiments.”

Interestingly, the few studies exploring the impact of calorie information at point-of-purchase has demonstrated a positive but weak impact on food selection. Presenting nutritional information on menus lays it right on the table for discussion. The opportunity is “ripe” for healthcare providers, public health professionals, nutritionists and health educators to educate consumers about the nutritional components of food and product labeling. This is especially important for consumers with multiple health conditions where monitoring sodium, fats and carbohydrates is critical.

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