Menus With a Mission: NYC Restaurants to Post Calorie Counts

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• Click here to read Lis' Column, "Lis and the Single Girl"

Like most women these days, I'm always on the run. That means I've got my phone in one hand, work in the other and I only have a few minutes to grab food. And, like most women these days, I'm also concerned with what I look like, but more importantly, my health. So, knowing I have to race back to the office in 20 minutes, I don't have too many options for lunch and I try to reach for the healthiest alternatives.

But fast food has been an uneasy option for me because I never know exactly what I'm putting in my body. I even stayed away from the salads because the dressing seemed loaded with fat. Not knowing the exact calorie count forced me to stick with the few places out there that actually provided the nutritional information. Let's be 'Crisco' clear. Even in Midtown Manhattan, there aren't too many places that supply the calorie count. However, there's good news — these days we're living in a world that actually values broccoli over butter and proof is in the pudding.

fortunately, the New York City Board of Health just voted to require all restaurant chains operating in New York City to post calorie information on their menus and menu boards. Beginning March 31, the new regulation will affect chain restaurants in the Big Apple that have 15 or more outlets nationwide, or about 10 percent of all city restaurants. This mandate comes after months of litigation. Back in September, a federal judge struck down a similar provision, forcing the City to re-write the proposal.

Let's face it ladies (and gentlemen), the calorie content of restaurant dishes is a mystery that plagues us all ever since a size six waist became en vogue. If we actually saw the number of calories posted next to the menu item, more people might opt for the Grilled Snack Wrap instead of a spur of the moment decision to grab the juicy Double Quarter Pounder then heading to the gym for an hour to work it off.

“The Board of Health passed a regulation that will help New Yorkers make healthier choices about what to eat; living longer, healthier lives as a result,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, New York City health commissioner. Although several chain restaurants already have calorie information available, it seems that the food joints keep the info out of sight or you only see it on the label after you order the hamburger. But when this information is in front of us, we readily use it. I know that when grocery shopping for my family or when dining out, I'm (usually) looking for the healthier choice. I have to think about my kids and their health as well as my own. The Health Department estimates that this new calorie regulation could reduce the number of people who suffer from obesity by 150,000 over the next five years, preventing more than 30,000 cases of diabetes.

However, not everyone supports this heart healthy happening. The New York Restaurant Association sued the Board of Health in an attempt to block the measure, claiming it would violate its members' First Amendment rights. The Association also argues that consumers don't really want the calorie information on menus because it will look too "cluttered" and that consumers can find the information on Web sites. It says that other labeling laws haven't made a difference to the obesity epidemic. Additionally, the Center for Consumer Freedom, a coalition of restaurants and food companies, blasted the proposal arguing "it doesn't take a PhD in nutrition, let alone a high school diploma to tell the difference between a 12-piece bucket of chicken and a salad."

Now, I do not want to feed into a calorie obsessive culture, and you certainly don't need a high school diploma, let alone a kindergarten education, to know that french fries do not qualify as one of the four basic food groups, but my point is that it's not just about dieting; it's just about being a healthy girl who may be on the run and looking for a healthier alternative and healthier lifestyle.

So what does this mean for a culture that is already obsessed with counting calories? Whatever you're craving for lunch — whether it's fast food or fruit salad — this certainly isn't a bad idea. California is also trying to pass similar legislation, let's hope this trend catches on so more of us have the opportunity to stay heart healthy. In an age where kids' lunchboxes are filled with 100-calorie snack packs rather than bologna, and women wear Spanx® where their hosiery and underwear used to be, it seems that this regulation is more about catching up with the times than being caught up with your weight.

Because I am frequently on the run and don't always have time to hit the gym, having a lunch option where the content is spelled out for me is not going to change my life, but it will help me make a better-informed decision. Now whether or not I take it, is up to me.

• Click here to read Lis' Column, "Lis and the Single Girl"


• NY orders calories posted on chain menus
• Counting calories on fast food menus
• Board of Health Votes to Require Chain Restaurants to Display Calorie Information in New York City
• Chain restaurants will count calories
• Stop Menu Labeling and Future Food Lawsuits
• Nutritional Issues/Menu Labeling + Trans Fat Ban


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Lis Wiehl joined FOX News Channel as a legal analyst in October 2001. To read the rest of Lis's bio, click here.