Silver Chips Online

Pro/Con: Calorie crackdown

Is the county correct in requiring chain restaurants to post calorie information?

By Blake Morgan-Gamber, Online Features and Sports Editor and Mandy Xu, News and Entertainment editor
December 25, 2009
Montgomery County Council members passed a measure on Nov. 17 requiring some restaurants to post calorie counts on menus and menu boards.

The law, which was passed by an 8-1 vote, requires restaurants in the Maryland county with 20 or more outlets nationwide to post calorie counts alongside food items and provide additional nutritional information to customers upon request. The law exempts supermarkets, convenience stores and movie theaters.

Should counties require chain restaurants to post calorie information?
  • Yes
  • No
Discuss this Poll
As other counties throughout the nation begin to adopt similar measures, Silver Chips Online poses the question: should the nation require chain restaurants to post calorie information?

Blake says YES: Montgomery County is correct in requiring posted calorie information at chain restaurants.

On Nov. 17, the Montgomery County Council voted 8-1 to require chain restaurants to post calorie information about their menu options, according to ABC News. An effort to give people in Montgomery County healthier lifestyle options, this bill will spark better eating habits among county residents.

Montgomery County's decision supports the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) constant push for consumers to be more aware of the nutritional values of foods they consume at fast food restaurants. Chain restaurants are notorious for a high concentration of fat and trans fat in their over-sized, high-calorie meals. In fact, frequent visitors to chain restaurants are prone to long-term health problems such as heart disease, according to the FDA. Heart disease is also the number one killer of Maryland residents according to the Montgomery County government.

Calling for chain restaurants - restaurants that have 20 or more facilities nationally - to be more accountable for their foods' nutritional information will benefit the health of Montgomery County residents by giving them more control over what they eat. If customers are presented with nutritional information about the foods they are eating, they will make smarter choices when browsing the menu. In April 2009, ScienceDaily published a study conducted by professors at various research universities to determine any potential benefits of posting calorie information about fast-food menu options. The study proved that giving consumers the ability to view calorie information of fast-food menu options does influence the way they order.

Caitlin Daitch
It is obvious that fast-food chains may lose a number of customers because of this new county policy. But restaurants such as McDonald's, Taco Bell and Burger King have thousands of restaurants across the nation, including several in Montgomery County. Any decrease of business in one region, such as Montgomery County, would not be damaging to the success of a long existing fast food empire. Up Stream Public Health, an organization devoted to promoting good health, estimates that the highest cost a franchise might endure in order to post calorie information in their restaurants would be a one-time payment of $18,000, used for analyzing the nutritional content of every menu option. The organization reports that the only cost to individual restaurants would be in redesigning menu boards, which usually is handled by chain executives rather than the individual restaurants.

Posting calorie information in chain restaurants is what the people want. According to Up Stream Public Health, 60 percent of respondents to national polls indicated that they want to have the ability to view the calorie information on the meals they order at chain restaurants.

If customers can see the nutritional information about the food they are ordering while they are deciding what to order, they will become more concerned about the dietary value of the food they consume. Montgomery County's decision to post calorie information in chain restaurants will benefit the overall health of county residents. With accessibility to the nutritional information of meals, county residents will be empowered to make healthier lifestyle choices when it comes to the food they eat. The benefits out-weigh the costs - posted calories mean a healthier county.

Mandy says NO: Placing the number of calories on menus will not lead to an overwhelmingly healthier population.

As noble as the Montgomery County Council may be, passing this bill is ineffective and too costly. Yes, everyone wants to combat obesity, which has risen dramatically in America within the past few years, but placing calories on menus will not significantly alter eating habits. The costs of creating these menus are not worth the local government's flimsy effort to save people from themselves.

Fast food chain restaurants such as McDonald's have a negative reputation due to exposes such as "Supersize Me." These films have increased the hype towards fighting obesity and the Montgomery County Council passed the calorie bill in hopes of aiding the crusade against heart disease and diabetes. Local restaurants must implement the policy in July 2010.

The sensational statistics on the general health of the American population are shocking. However, a band aid will be of no use to a cut as deep as this. Proponents of the bill suggest that placing calorie reminders on menus will encourage local residents to choose a healthier alternative, but a dramatic change is highly unlikely.

Caitlin Daitch
This fall, several professors at New York University (NYU) and Yale reported the results from their study of New York City's pioneering calorie law that was enacted in July 2008. They found that in poor neighborhoods with high obesity levels, about 28 percent of those who noticed the calorie signs said the information influenced their ordering. Of those in the 28 percent, only nine out of 10 said they had made healthier choices as a result. In fact, results show that people ordered slightly more calories than the typical customer had before the labeling law was enacted.

These disappointing results are not worth the costs that restaurant chains, especially smaller local chains, will face. The bill will affect more than 600 chain restaurants. Many chains will not allocate funds to modify menus, sticking independent franchise owners with the costs of designing and implementing new menus. In a letter to the County Council, co-owner of Ledo's Pizza in Damascus, Diana Mahoney explained how new menu boards could cost her chain thousands of dollars.

These small businesses will be affected by the fraction of people who will take the calories into account. For restaurants centered on quick service, the lag caused by a customer's indecision could result in losses of tens of thousands of dollars annually. The owner of two International House of Pancakes restaurants in the county estimated that the bill will lead to losses of more than $62,000 a year. Especially during this difficult economic recession, the law is extremely inconvenient for small time business openers already struggling to pay their bills.

While there definitely needs to be a change in the eating styles of Americans, the government can not solve this problem with laws. It is shocking that government spends so much time trying to solve its constituents' personal problems when it can't get to the more important issues such as improving public infrastructure, education and the quality of social services. At the core of the matter, the individual is responsible for his or her own actions. In a country where freedom and privacy are guaranteed rights, individuals need to take personal responsibility for their lifestyles.

http://silverchips.mbhs.edu/story/9753