by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Calorie-labeling

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.


Oct 21 2008

Menu labeling: a U.S. map

Center for Science in the Public Interest has mapped legislative initiatives by state.  Here’s a quick way to see which states are doing what.

Oct 7 2008

Education campaign: NYC calorie labels

The New York City Health Department announces a new education campaign to teach New Yorkers about calories.  The slogan: “read ’em before you eat ’em.”  Here’s one of the ads (below).  Access the rest here.  Will ads like this help?  Can’t wait to find out.

one of the ads

Oct 1 2008

Calorie labeling is catching on: Yum! California!

Yum Brands, which owns KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut, is going to post calories on the menu boards at all those places.  The company must see the writing on the wall and is just getting a head start on what is sure to come.  Part of the writing comes from California, which has just passed a statewide calorie labeling law.  This particular law is hailed by some advocates as an major step forward and by others as a complete sell-out since it doesn’t really go into effect until 2011 (brochures will be required by July 2009).  This, of course, gives state and national Restaurant Associations, which have fiercely opposed such initiatives, plenty of time to litigate.

And then there is the fraud problem?  According to bloggers, class action suits have been filed accusing restaurant chains of lying about the number of calories.  From what I see in New York City, the calories posted are so high that it’s hard to believe they could be any higher.

Aug 15 2008

Food label boredom?

The USDA has just come out with a new study documenting declining use of the Nutrition Facts labels, especially among adults too young to have known anything about them when they first came out in the early 1990s.   Now that trans fats are zeros, the only thing people look at these days are fiber and sugar.  To this one-track mind, this is another reason why calorie labeling is a good idea.  Why don’t people look at calories on package labels?  I’m guessing because they get confused by the serving size.  About five years ago, the FDA proposed a way to make calories more prominent but nothing ever came of it (too much opposition).  I still have hopes.

Aug 12 2008

This is a test: find the calorie information

Thanks to Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, for sending a link to the Center’s video on public understanding of brochures put out by fast food chains. This reminds me a lot of my screen debut in SuperSize Me! where Morgan Spurlock tries to find out if anyone can define calories.  I used to have a clip of it at, but it seems to have vanished.

Aug 5 2008

CSPI’s new study on kids’ menus

Center for Science in the Public Interest has a new study out on the nutrient composition of kids’ meals in fast food restaurants. Of course they are all (OK, just 93%) too high in calories. Of course the default option includes sodas (Subway is the sole exception).  If calories were on menu boards, would parents think twice about ordering these things?  Might be worth a try, given that the average child under 18, or so reports USA Today, eats 167 meals a year in restaurants.

Aug 4 2008

Calorie labeling: it’s catching

As predicted, other cities and counties are following New York’s example and requiring calories to be listed on menu boards. The latest is Portland, which follows Seattle and San Francisco, if you are keeping score.  In Portland, 90 chains are involved so there will be plenty to talk about.  Who’s next?