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In The Health Bill, Calorie Disclosure Mandate

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In The Health Bill, Calorie Disclosure Mandate

Your Health

In The Health Bill, Calorie Disclosure Mandate

In The Health Bill, Calorie Disclosure Mandate

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The new health care law includes a number of items that have gone relatively unnoticed. Among them: a requirement that all restaurant chains with 20 or more outlets post calorie counts on their menus or drive-through displays. Melissa Block talks to Cathy Nonas, director of physical activity and nutrition for the New York City Health Department — which began requiring this kind of menu labeling back in 2008.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

Welcome to the program.

CATHY NONAS: Thank you so much.

BLOCK: What do studies show about consumer behavior? Has the labeling law there in New York made a difference in what people actually end up buying?

NONAS: Well, what we know from all of the studies really is that about 25 percent of the people who see calorie posting say that it changes their purchase.

BLOCK: They will buy something with somewhat fewer calories?

NONAS: So I think that people took that seriously. And if they wanted to use that information, all of a sudden for the first time, they had it available.

BLOCK: It doesn't necessarily mean they're walking out of Burger King or McDonald's and finding some healthier alternative, though.

NONAS: The second piece, which is a little more subtle - but very, very important was the pressure that it would put on restaurants, because all of a sudden, they would have to post their calories. And they, all of a sudden, were concerned about consumer opinion.

BLOCK: I was reading a column on this by The Atlantic food writer Corby Kummer who said that Starbucks changed the milk that it uses in frappachino, from whole milk to two percent milk. As he put it: So they wouldn't have to admit that a frappachino could amount to practically as many calories as you should eat in a whole day.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: Did they really change?

NONAS: And we've seen that these formulation changes have occurred all over the place. You can look at Dunkin' Donuts and they have an egg white with whole wheat breakfast item. And they now call their healthy things Smart DD. You can look at Kentucky Fried Chicken, and they now have a grilled chicken. You can look all over the boards in terms of chain restaurants and see changes in promotions and changes in formulation.

BLOCK: Well, if you look forward from your experience in New York and think about what this means for the country on the whole, to have this calorie labeling in fast food restaurants, do you think it'll make a difference?

NONAS: I think that includes physical activity opportunities, access of healthy, fresh produce, a variety of things to make this a healthier place. And we've certainly done this in New York. And we've certainly reduced the disparities between the rich and the poor, and we'll continue to work on that.

BLOCK: Cathy Nonas, thank you very much.

NONAS: Thank you.

BLOCK: Cathy Nonas is a dietician. She's director of physical activity and nutrition programs for the New York City Health Department.

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