Monday, July 13, 2015

The delay is NOT the demise of menu labeling

The FDA has granted restaurants and similar retail establishments a delay in posting calorie amounts  -  how that delay actually came about and why, warrants some clarification.

The National Restaurant Industry, like the National Automatic Merchandising Association for vending machines, supports calorie disclosures on menus and menu boards as mandated for large (20 or more) chain restaurants. Large chain restaurants are probably ready to roll with the disclosures - several cities and at least 1 state already have calorie (+) disclosure laws in place (though they are preempted by the federal law). It is not likely that restaurants need or even want the delay, after all, the industry(through its trade group) supported the federal law; a nationwide, preemptive law is good for them.

What is really going on is that the 'similar retail establishments,' ones that sell ready to eat food as a major part of their enterprise, for example, grocery stores, movie theatres, bowling alleys, convenience stores, tried to get out of the mandate. Once they realized the law did indeed apply to them, they asked for and received more time to get their act together.

I do not see the delay as a bad thing and I do not read it as the demise of the legislation. Too many big players AND consumers want calorie displays across the many places where food choices are made. 

Including the similar retail establishments (and vending machines) in the law makes it 1) fair to the sellers of the food - why should some have to disclose and other not? and 2) easier - possible - for us to monitor our calorie intake if we so choose. Whether we will choose to do it or understand how to do it, is a separate discussion.

Researchers and proponents of the law do not know if calorie disclosure by itself is going to change the behavior of people most in need of changing their behavior (i.e., people who exceed their average daily calorie needs), but it makes it possible and before we can do anything else (e.g., tell people how many calories, from which types of foods, are too many), we have to put the information out there. The early positive change that I, and many others envision, is that the retailers are going to reformulate recipes or reduce serving sizes in order to 'present' calorie counts that are more reasonable. Hey, there is a thought, maybe one of the things that 'similar retail establishments' will do with their extra year is reduce calories  - say in that bucket of popcorn!

Anyway, I am not disheartened and as a researcher, I hope to take advantage of the extra time to conceptualize some new evaluation studies!