by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Calorie-labeling

Jul 28 2009

Kaiser-Permanente does menu labeling

Kaiser-Permanente hospital cafeterias in California, Oregon, and Hawaii will soon be displaying information about calories and nutrition on menu boards.  This huge not-for-profit HMO has a huge not-for-profit focus on preventive health.  It figured out a long time ago that healthy people don’t cost as much to take care of, and it constantly seeks new ways to encourage its members to stay healthy.  That’s why it sponsored a study to find out whether menu labeling helps people make healthier food choices.  Guess what: it does.

Now, if only for-profit hospitals would start doing the same….

[Posted from London]

Jul 22 2009

What’s new with calorie labeling?

For starters, calorie labeling in California is having a big effect – on the companies, if not customers.  The chains are madly cutting down on calories.  The most impressive example is a Macaroni Grill 1,270-calorie scallop-and-spinach salad (I can’t even imagine how they did this), which is now just a normal 390.

Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has a website devoted exclusively to calorie and other menu labeling initiatives where it tracks the legislation year by year and posts a handy map of what states and cities are doing on this issue.

And the latest issue of JAMA has a commentary by David Ludwig and Kelly Brownell about why it’s important to get calorie labeling in place even before we can get evidence for its effectiveness” For some of the most important public health problems today, society does not have the luxury to await scientific certainty…For restaurant calorie labeling regulation, there is a clear rationale for action.”

As to how well the system is working, try the Wall Street Journal’s take on the accuracy of the calorie counts.  Sigh.  Plenty of work left to do on this one.  But worth doing, no?

July 24 update: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is keeping track of the research along with policy implications.  The bottom line to date?  Menu labeling is having some effects, but there’s more work to do.

Jul 3 2009

The latest statistics on obesity

I am always indebted to Joel Moskowitz of the University of California School of Public Health’s Center for Family and Community Health for his almost daily forwarding of research on obesity.  His recent postings include data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).  The CDC has just released preliminary results of the 2008 National Health Interview Survey.  These include, among other measures, data charts and tables on obesity (rates still rising steadily since 1997), physical activity (no measurable change), and diabetes (rising in parallel with obesity).

Interpretation: if physical activity rates have not changed, then the reason obesity rates are going up is because people are eating more calories.

Plenty of evidence backs up this idea.  All you need to do to see why people are eating more is to take a look at Time magazine’s discussion of the implications of calorie labeling: “Would you like 1,000 calories with that?”

Jun 18 2009

Food legislation (maybe)

Legislators in the new administration are working on food laws.  Here is a quick sample:

Calorie labeling: it looks like we have bipartisan support for national menu labeling.  If passed, calories will have to be disclosed on menu boards of fast food and vending machine chains throughout the country – and not just in New York City and the few states that have passed their own laws.   Lots of health organizations are backing this proposal.

Food safety: the House just passed its version of a bill that will overhaul some aspects of the present food safety system.  This bill still has a long way to go but is a hopeful sign that Congress might actually do something to fix the FDA.  What the bill does not do is deal with fixing the system.  It exempts meat, poultry, and eggs under USDA jurisdiction.

Produce safety: The new head of the FDA, Margaret Hamburg, says her agency is going to put special efforts into ensuring the safety of high-risk produce. To do that, she will need Congress to pass laws that, among other things, give the FDA the authority to order recalls and a lot more money to carry out its work.

Organics: The U.S. and Canada have agreed to coordinate their organic standards, so foods certified organic in Canada can be sold here and vice versa.  Let’s hope the most stringent standards prevail.

These are (somewhat) hopeful signs.  Let’s hope Congress manages to keep at this and tries to get it right.

Mar 13 2009

A federal calorie labeling law? Uh oh.

Why do I get suspicious when I hear that the National Restaurant Association (NRA) and coalitions of its supporters are in favor of proposed legislation to require calorie labeling in fast food restaurants?  Jim Matheson (Dem-Utah) has just introduced a bill that the NRA and its supporters think is just fine.  Why?  It requires calorie information on menu boards or some other place in the store (hidden under the counter, perhaps?).  The New York City initiative puts the information on menu boards in the same size type as the price.

Dec 9 2008

British Medical Journal weighs in on calorie labeling

The BMJ has an interesting editorial this week about American calorie labeling (disclosure: I was interviewed for it).  Maybe Great Britain will do this too?

Nov 12 2008

Calorie labeling updates

As calorie labeling initiatives spread across the country, it’s fun to keep track of them.  The latest is Westchester County, New York.  The easiest way to get the complete list is from the menu labeling web page produced by Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

April 9 update: Ulster County New York has just passed one.  Here’s the latest map from CSPI.

May 6 update: Here’s where to track CSPI’s 2009 legislative summaries.

May 13 update: Massachusetts passes labeling law.  That’s the second one (California did this back in September but it doesn’t go into effect until 2011).

Oct 28 2008

New food rating label: a step forward?

Big Food companies have gotten together and agreed on a scoring system to identify “better-for-you” packaged foods (see below).  Thanks to my colleague in Copenhagen, Morten Strunge Meyer (MortenCopenhagen), for sending the link to the qualifying crieteria.  As is true of scoring systems in general, these are complicated and constitute a slippery slope.  Take sodium, for example.  The allowance is particularly generous (junk foods don’t taste good without it) – 480 mg per serving.  That means 479 mg qualifies and that’s still nearly half a gram.

Having one checkmark instead of the various ones run by PepsiCo, Kraft, and Unilever seems useful if – and only if – the criteria are stringent (which this one is not for sodium), and this symbol replaces all of the others.  Even so, this looks like preemption.  It’s voluntary and seems designed to head off a mandatory traffic light system (red, yellow, green)  that would warn people away from the worst junk foods.  It also preempts the FDA proposal to display the full number of calories per package.  Alas, this is a standard food industry tactic: preempt with something that seems better than what is currently available to stave off something that could be worse.

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