Monday, March 18, 2013

National Menu Labeling Update

   Funny that I should be the one posting an update on menu labeling when I regularly troll the internet searching for the updates myself.  The rule to post calorie information on restaurant menus and menu boards was adopted in 2010 when President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148). Section 4205 of PL 111-148 has not been enacted because the FDA hasn't issued the final rule.  The final rule will explain how the restaurant and vending industry are to go about getting that nutrition information to us - in a standardized, effective and reasonable manner.
   Recently the FDA commissioner, Margaret Hamburg was quoted as saying that the menu labeling issue had become "thorny."
The National Restaurant Association  is not the cause of the delay.  They supported the legislation that made its way into the law (to protect themselves from a plethora of differing city and state policies).  
   The latest snag comes from the pizza industry
I read about the industry concern in a news brief from It told about a recent trip that executives from the nations largest pizza chains (e.g., Dominos, Pizza Hut) took to DC.  They went to talk to members of the Domestic Policy Council.  I had not heard of the DPC before I read the article.  You can read about the council here.

   The pizza group made some good arguments.  They did say that they were not trying to get out of providing the information (that would be bad PR, yes?).  They are trying to find the best way to provide customers with nutrition information.
   Some of their argument centered on the issue of made-to-order 'ness'.  For example, the toppings that can go on a pizza, the number of slices one makes from a pizza and how both of those things can differ by restaurant.  To supply calorie information for all the combinations would be incredibly expensive and space intensive.      
   The group also expressed concerns about the public having to do math in order to figure out the amount of calories in the particular slice of pizza they orderedFor example, the restaurant could post the calories for a basic 12 inch cheese pizza and tell the customer to add 50 for sausage, 50 for pepperoni, and 20 for onions (etc ).  Then they could instruct the customer to divide that total pizza calorie number by however many slices they cut the pizza into to get the total number of calories in one slice of the pizza they ordered... well that would be too burdensome. Heck it was too much of a sentence even!.
    I believe it was implied in the comments that some customers were not capable of basic math.  It is true that the calculations are a problem.  This is mostly because we (health educators, etc) have learned that when customers have to do math - they won't.  It takes too long OR they don't know how.  Maria Topliff (quoted in the news piece and representing a Chicago pizza chain), asked if instead of having the customers do it, we would ask the 16 year old behind the counter to do math.  She indicated that this would be a bad idea.  [this really points to a need for a dialogue on the lousy math skills of Americans.  Maybe we ought to do it this way so people will learn to add and divide!]   
  Ms. Topliff is right though.  There is great variability in a pizza restaurant.  I liked her idea of an onsite meal calculator - or even an on site IPad.  In fact, I think that might be a very good idea in this technological era.  It would be a lot cheaper for the restaurant and easier to update.  However, from menu labeling research we learned that people need to see the big picture (calories) at the same time they are reading the food choices.  Her idea doesn't do that.  It may be a necessity for pizza places, but I would not recommend that we allow non-pizza chains the same option.

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