by Marion Nestle
Feb 8 2013

Rumor: the White House is holding out for weak calorie labeling

I hope the rumors I’m hearing are not true.

What sources are telling me is that the White House has decided not to allow the FDA to require calorie labels in movie theaters or anywhere else where selling food is not the primary business.

If these rumors have any validity, this situation is a sad commentary on how corporate pressures are undermining Michelle Obama’s Let Move campaign.

There is no practical reason that keeps movie theaters from posting calorie labels.

Plenty are already doing it.  New York City has had calorie labeling in movie theaters since 2008.  And guess what?  The world has not come to an end.

It’s approaching three years since President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, which authorizes national calorie labeling.

But the FDA still has not issued final rules, reportedly because the White House is holding them up.

The delay has left plenty of time for industry lobbying and pushback.

If the new rules exempt movie theaters and other such places, New York will not be able to continue requiring them to post the information.  That would be a significant setback.

So would exempting prepared foods in chain groceries and convenience stores, as the Center for Science in the Public Interest makes clear.

If you have concerns about this issue, send a message to Mrs. Obama at the White House.

Menu labeling that covers movie theaters as well as fast-food places will help people make healthier food choices.  It will also be a significant achievement of Let’s Move.

In the meantime, I’m keeping fingers crossed that the rumors are false.

  • For all the people who spend their daily lives counting calories for there weight loss goals this is a bad move by the government.

    I think all companies should post calorie counts on labels.

  • Kyle

    Ok pump the breaks, Lets Move! doesn’t set public policy or FDA regs. Pressure would have to be coming from the White House itself not Lets Move!

  • I just left a message for “The White House and President Obama”:

    I was absolutely thrilled when I learned that the Affordable Care Act included mandatory calorie labeling at restaurants and food establishments. However, I’m frustrated that the White House and the FDA are still considering exempting movie theaters or anywhere else where selling food is not the primary business. Food is food; calories are calories. Please don’t allow the food industry to weaken the bill, and require that all establishments that sell food provide the calorie information.

  • This is a very awakening post.
    As a wellness coach, I really enjoyed it and will return for updates.

  • I was not aware that the labeling requirement was not being pursued. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

  • I didn’t realize that this was going on. I hope they make it required everywhere, it’s true food is food and lots of people are counting their calories these days trying to eat smarter.

  • Trulia

    What’s really amazing is that when I look at pictures in magazines and newspapers from the 1960’s and earlier . . . everyone is lean. Not an obese person anywhere. And yet they suffered from a complete lack of guidance as to what to eat, how much to eat, how much fat they were ingesting. If only they had mandatory calorie disclosures.

  • Michael Bulger
  • Trulia

    Michael – perhaps I was too subtle. My fault. My comment wasn’t about food. It wasn’t about portion control. It was satire. It was about misguided meddling.

    Imagine a world where obesity was uncommon. Perhaps just 10% of population. How’d they manage to do that? In the 60’s, I didn’t know what a calorie was. We didn’t live in an era where benevolent bureaucrats mandated disclosures.

    You’re well intended. But you’re awfully intrusive. Leave your neighbors alone about the things that you care about. And maybe they’ll leave you alone too.

    The road to serfdom starts with us.

  • Laura Collins

    I do not see why the government is making such a big deal out of this. It seems they cannot decide on a healthy medium.

  • Michael Bulger

    Trulia, I think you missed my point. Comparing the current marketing and food environment to the 60’s, it’s apparent the food companies initiated this change. I can’t say that I share your fears of intrusive meddling, at least as far as it concerns public health. I don’t see limiting portion sizes of a frivolous junk food as an abridgment of a cherished freedom. I am more concerned with my community and country than I am with making buckets of sugary beverages the default option.

    I respect my neighbors and I value their help. There’s much more strength and pleasure when we work together to make our community a healthier place. We should work towards making our food environment more conducive for healthy choices.

  • Anthro

    This is dreadful news–the delay in implementation. It’s so discouraging to see the FDA pushed around like this. It needs to be free of political influence–fat chance!

    I had thought that the calorie labeling wouldn’t be effective until Obamacare fully kicks in in 2014, but now I’m not sure of anything.

    How can people quibble about “intrusiveness” when the health of the nation is at stake? If you don’t care about the calories, ignore the postings–no one is going to wag their finger at you at the checkout (well, I would, but luckily I don’t work in food), but for those of us trying to find something to eat on an outing, it would be such a help. I have found that knowing the calories helps me resist things that I would otherwise try to justify.

    Starbucks posted the calories of a cookie for a while, but then stopped and offered the tiny treats instead (they post that they are all about 200 calories). I think this shows that there are different ways to respond to offering options–as long as you offer them! Starbucks also has calorie info on all their packaged deli offerings, which has been a huge help to me, so while I favor posting calories up front, I applaud their efforts anyway.

    Movie theaters are obviously worried that at least some people will think twice about a bucket of grease-laden popcorn and additional bucket of soda. Speaking of intrusion–how dare they intrude on my health choices by denying me information that is critical to my health. In truth, I simply do not eat in theaters, knowing full well that none of it is necessary or healthful. Talk about mindless eating–theaters have to be a prime example. There is one here that serves alcohol and I do admit to enjoying a glass of whiskey at a good chick-flick once-in-a-while. (I already know the calories for that, hence the once-in-a-while).

  • Issues like this seem to be simple enough: it is clearly in the public’s interest to do this, but it can’t move through. A sad state indeed.

    Let’s all bring our own healthy snacks to the movies that will show them!

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  • @truila, you said right in 1960 all were learn because of they what they are eating and why they are eating. They eat natural things, but time changed. You hardly find the people who eat natural food.

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    He sincerly talks about the Foods and diets site that helped for metabolism.