Labeling Laws

” SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING:  Eating this product leads to heart disease, obesity, and enormous gelatinous thighs.”

That may be the message you see posted on restaurant menus and vending machines in the not-to-distant future.  Part of the health care reform bill recently passed in Washington has a provision that requires restaurant chains and vending machines to provide calorie information beginning in 2011.

The specifics of the regulations still need to be worked out by the Food and Drug Administration.  What we do know is that every restaurant chain with 20 or more locations will need to provide calorie information on their menus and drive-thru signs.  Food sold in vending machines will also be required to provide this data.

The intent of the legislation in to provide consumers with the information they need to make healthier choices.  Americans spend half of their food dollars outside the home, and it is hoped that this labeling will help curb our growing waistlines.  Obesity related diseases are on the rise and the cost of treating them is already having a tremendous impact on the health care system.

It will be interesting to see what kind of edict the FDA mandates.   The measure is modeled after a program that is already in effect in New York City.  Early studies there have shown mixed results, so it is unclear whether simply providing calorie information will have any effect on consumers’ food choices. 

The government’s use of labeling laws to change behavior is nothing new.  In 1966 smokers were warned that ” Cigarette Smoking May be Hazardous to Your Health”.  When that message failed to have much effect, it was changed to the sterner “The Surgeon General Has Determined that Cigarette Smoking is Dangerous to Your Health”.   By 1985 the message became even more graphic, warning that “Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema,  And May Complicate Pregnancy”.

It isn’t too much of a stretch of the imagination to see food labeling evolve along similar lines.  Who knows, in a few years every pizza box may have a picture like this printed on the lid:

HIGH FAT FOOD WARNING: May Be Hazardous to Your Girth


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