In 2008, New York and California passed laws requiring restaurant chains with more than 15 and 20 locations respectively to post calorie counts on their menus, the idea being that with access to such information, customers would make healthier decisions when ordering.

A study published in 2011 in the British Medical Journal surveyed roughly 8,000 New Yorkers and determined that one in six customers pays attention to calorie counts when ordering. Those who considered this information consumed, on average, 106 calories fewer than those who did not. These results are promising, although not stellar, for those fighting against the obesity epidemic in the U.S.

Would this law be beneficial in Virginia? To answer this question, we must first examine the two stakeholders that would be affected: restaurant chains with more than 15 or 20 locations and the customers who dine in them.

The laws in New York and California have inconvenienced restaurant chains, particularly smaller chains that lack the necessary capital to make drastic changes to their printed menus. Restaurants in New York can be fined up to $2,000 for violations running the gamut from neglecting to post calorie counts to printing the information too small. The problem lies not only in the cost of printing of new menus. Reprinting 50 menus today would probably not cost more than $20. The trouble also stems from determining the calorie counts, ensuring consistency and creating menu options that appeal to customers looking for lower-calorie dishes.

Consider a Virginia chain restaurant with more than 15 locations that offers a popular chicken salad prior to the passage of a calorie-count law. Once the law is enacted, the restaurant chain must conduct a nutritional analysis of the salad and ensure that its preparation is consistent in each location. If one employee scoops an extra ladle of dressing onto the salad, the calorie count printed on menus is no longer accurate.

Some customers might be shocked by the caloric content of the salad and stop ordering it or choose to dine elsewhere. At this point, the restaurant could replace the breaded chicken in the salad with grilled chicken and substitute a low-fat dressing, reducing the salad’s calorie total. This change may make the health-conscious crowd happy, but it could upset customers who don’t regard the numbers. Businesses run the risk of losing money and customers in this attempt to curb our collective obesity problem.

On the other hand, consumers have the right to ask for accurate and easily accessible nutritional information. We have access to these sorts of facts in nearly every other aspect of our consumer behavior, from buying a new blender to choosing a new car. When we buy pre-packaged food at a grocery store, we can view the nutritional facts on the packaging. Why not at a restaurant? Requiring restaurants to post these data on the menu facilitates healthier eating in a society that has become a bit more than lax about personal health.

We have a serious problem in this country. According to a 2010 article published on WebMD, a substantial portion of baby boomers is expected to outlive their children, who may die of obesity-related medical complications. At a certain point, it may be necessary for the government to intervene in a matter that so directly and dangerously impacts the future of our country.

In the end, this question boils down to whether businesses should have to shoulder a certain amount of responsibility for correcting America’s weight problem.

I would like to see a calorie count law passed in Virginia. With a 25.9 percent adult obesity rate and a 61.2 percent combined overweight and obese adult rate, as reported by the Trust for America’s Health, Virginia needs to look into ways to correct this problem. While the adjustments may be initially difficult for small restaurant chains, the struggles will be short-lived. Once menus are changed, customers will adapt. I don’t believe the change would drastically reduce any given chain’s business.

Easily accessible nutrition facts and healthier menu options will enable individuals to make healthier choices that could help to ameliorate the obesity problem on the national scale.




1 Comment

  1. Luke Faraone says:

    Any new requirements for resturaunts will cause increases in costs. When business is good, this is fine. But if this happens when business is slow, then stores will end up closing.