Judge: Calories To Be Posted On Fast Food Menus In NYC!

The Wall Street Journal’s Health Blog informs us that a federal judge has given the go ahead to NYC’s new (rewritten) menu labeling law, thus ending (until the inevitable appeal) a fierce and sometimes weird battle between the fast food industry and NYC’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The Department issued a triumphant-sounding press release:

“Today’s decision is a victory which will give New Yorkers the calorie information they need – where they need it – to make informed, healthier choices,” said New York City Health Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden. “We hope these restaurants will accept the judgment and become part of the solution. This regulation could prevent at least 150,000 New Yorkers from becoming obese and prevent at least 30,000 New Yorkers from developing diabetes and other health concerns over the next 5 years.”
“The New York City Health Code provision in dispute — which makes calorie information available at the point of purchase – is a critical component in the efforts to address the obesity epidemic,” said Corporation Counsel Michael A. Cardozo of the New York City Law Department, which litigated the case on behalf of the Health Department. “We are very pleased that Judge Holwell concluded that this provision is not pre-empted by federal regulations, and that it does not violate the First Amendment. We are confident that Judge Holwell’s ruling will be upheld if it is appealed.”

From the WSJ Health blog:

What’s more, the judge bought the big picture argument behind the rule: “It seems reasonable to expect that some consumers will used the information disclosed … to select lower calorie meals when eating at covered restaurants and that these choices will lead to a lower incidence of obesity,” he wrote.

The new regulation goes into effect next week and only affects restaurants with 15 or more locations operating under the same name. Get ready to laugh at the shocked expressions on your fellow Starbucks customers’ faces as they learn that their favorite drink (Venti Strawberries & Crème Frappuccino® Blended Crème, 750 calories) has more calories than a Whopper (only 680).

Judge: NYC Can Force Chain Restaurants to Post Calorie Counts [WSJ Health Blog]
Read The Court Ruling (PDF) [NYC]
Read The Compliance Guide For Restaurants (PDF) [NYC]

PREVIOUSLY: Wendy’s Sends Scary Legal Threats Over Photoshopped Menu That Includes Calorie Info
NYC To Vote On New And Improved Menu Labeling Regulation
60 Minutes Tackles The Menu Labeling Controversy
New York City Proposes New Menu Labeling Regulations


Edit Your Comment

  1. Angryrider says:

    “Informed healthier choices [on fast food]?” Are you friggin’ kidding me?
    We already know that Big Mac will clog your arteries, but do we need know how many calories are in it? There is nothing healthy about fast food.

  2. m1k3g says:

    Who gives a sh**? I don’t eat fast food and never will. These f*ing fast food companies deserve to die a slow death in the same manner they’ve been treating their customers for decades.

  3. greenpepper says:

    Fast food isn’t all that bad done right. I’d rather have the BigMac without sauce over the fun burger at Cheezecake Factory anytime. Like the Starbucks example above, done right it’s a good choice.

    I hope other places will quickly follow with similar requirements. It’s good to have seen places like Subway promote what their products pack.

  4. FreeMarketGravy says:

    @m1k3g: Not a single company has ever forced anyone to eat at a fast food place. It’s common knowledge that fast food is some of the unhealthier stuff you can ingest, but don’t blame McDonald’s for producing it. Blame the people who make a diet out of it.

  5. Wait, seriously, NYC has a department of “Health and Mental Hygiene”? Because that’s AWESOME. Or are you teasing us backcountry folk?

    For proper mental hygiene, don’t forget your mental floss!

  6. chrisjames says:

    Why only restaurants with 15 or more locations? Why not every restaurant with a menu? There’s no reason to suspect large chains are any worse than small-scale or local restaurants.

    And “under the same name?” Couldn’t McDonald’s start renaming their restaurants “McDonald’s NYC,” “McDonald’s Times Square,” “McD’s on Broadway” and circumvent this?

    I guess passing laws as public statements gets better press than PSAs.

  7. FreeMarketGravy says:

    @chrisjames: I can’t say for sure and besides, it’s far from a steadfast rule, but you independently owned/mom-and-pop restaurants tend to use more fresh ingredients and are more likely to make their meals from scratch (or close to it) whereas chain places tend to pop their meals out of the freezer and into a microwave or onto a grill.

    I don’t think anyone should be exempt, personally and the margin isn’t that large, but large chains probably are, as a whole, worse than smaller places.

  8. hejustlaughs says:

    …like this will REALLY change anytime. I doubt anybody can blame their obesity on McDonald’s not labeling how many calories are in a Big Mac.

    This will hurt the bulimics wayyy more.

  9. chrisjames says:

    @FreeMarketGravy: I don’t know about that.

    I’ve been to a few small burger places in Texas that are obviously worse than a similar Wendy’s or Whataburger hamburger (greasiest chain I can think of). They’re just dripping with crap. Most of these over-buttered the buns till they were soggy. The food is much better, yes, but I wouldn’t say healthier or better prepared than a chain.

    And BBQ joints? There are more “mom-and-pop” BBQ restaurants than chains, and there’s nothing healthy in them. There’s enough cholesterol in one fork-full of their chopped beef to kill the cow it came from. Again, it’s better food than a chain, but not healthy.

    What about Subway’s and other try-to-be-healthy chains? The food is crap like usual, but the caloric content is lower. They need to pass standards laws and spend money enforcing health regulations, not bother with bullying the chains.

  10. Leah says:

    @chrisjames: the exemption is based on the cost of computing caloric value. You can’t just ballpark it based on ingredients. McDonalds and places like that actually prepare food for the lab and have the stuff tested. It’s really expensive if you have a large menu and only one restaurant.

  11. chrisjames says:

    @Leah: Well that’s arbitrary. Ah well. It’s the businesses’ problem now. Sucks to be anyone opening their 15th restaurant in the city.

  12. FreeMarketGravy says:

    @chrisjames: True, but you can’t judge healthiness of the food served in burger joints or BBQ places. Their menus are unhealthy by nature. Nobody who’s concerned about their waistline should be eating a burger period, be it a rubber meat plank from McDonald’s, a greasy slab of beef from Johnny’s Rocket Burgers or a burger grilled at home on a Foreman.

    I’m talking about comparing, for instance, a sandwich from Subway to a sandwich from Roy’s Sandwich Shop (Since 1920). Or Applebee’s Teriyaki Chicken dinner to a Teriyaki Chicken Dinner served in a small family-owned business.

  13. The Starbuck’s example is the perfect example.

    Sure, people know that certain foods are bad/caloric/whatever for them, but often not exactly how bad/caloric/whatever. And there is a difference.
    I remember the first time I checked the back of an Odwalla and realized I was drinking three meals a morning.

    I don’t actually have a strong opinion about the rule itself, but the idea that “people already know what they’re getting” strikes me as only true in the most general sense.

  14. FreeMarketGravy says:

    @92BuickLeSabre: I think “people already know what they’re getting” is true enough when applied to fast food (and I’m talking stuff like Baconators and things like that) because very few people who eat one voluntarily are going to care when they find out it has (x) calories, especially when they probably don’t care (or even know) how many calories they should be consuming a day.

    That’s a big difference between someone who cares about their health and caloric intake eating a Subway and making a startling discovery about their favorite lunch meal or looking at the back of an Odwalla and being shocked at what is in it. Those people are likely to care about this regulation. The majority of fast food restaurants’ clientele? Significantly less so.

    I’m not saying it’s a bad idea. I’m just saying that when you’re voluntarily eating something that has the nutritional value of a typical fast food meal on even a semi-regular basis, you don’t really need to know the specifics unless that 1,800 calorie item is the only thing you’re going to eat all day.

  15. Coelacanth says:

    @Angryrider: While we know certain foods are “bad,” it’s even better to quantify exactly how bad something is.

    It also takes some of the surprises that uninformed consumers might have, like how exactly their daily Starbucks fix fits into their healthy, “green” lifestyle.

    I’m well aware of calories, but when I saw how much I was consuming in some of my favourite caffeinated beverages, I immediately switched to smaller sizes, or simply drank more black coffee (though not at Starbucks).

  16. chrisjames says:

    @FreeMarketGravy: I think it’s an appropriate way to inform consumers of what they’re eating. The law states (or stated) that the calorie information must be posted as large as either the name of the item or the price, whichever is larger. Some people don’t really care, that’s true, but when you put two items side-by-side and see that one has a lower price, you’ll tend to take notice of the lower price. Now people might take notice of lower calories too. Small psychological factors play heavy on consumer choices.

    What bothers me is the exemption. Small restaurants should be posting this too. I doubt this will be used much as a point of comparison between two restaurants except by the avid armchair nutritionalists (restaurants make it clear that posted nutritional information can be bogus). Even so, it’s unfair to target the chains when the mom-and-pops can be just as unhealthy. There may be foods that are just obviously unhealthy, like BBQ and burgers, but the purpose of the law put forth by the NYCHD is to inform consumers that don’t even understand about caloric intake. They eat crap without knowing and need to learn. Or, apparently, only the chain-food patrons need to learn.

    The justifications for the law (a slideshow I found presented by the NYCHD) point to chains specifically, citing that they get a lot of traffic in NYC and they probably already have this information. That’s it. They say that “chains serve food linked to excess caloric intake and weight gain,” but so is other food. They also say that chains can afford the costs of analysis and revamping their menus, but the law states that the analysis is actually not mandatory (caloric content can be estimated from nutrient databases), and you can’t justify picking a group because they can afford to “remenu” and others can’t.

    The previous version of the law forced only restaurants that already provide the information in some form to do this, but that was struck down and rehashed to target _only_ chains. How is that fair? Consumer ignorance is the problem and this is a poor attempt to inform people at the expense of business. Law should not be used to make public statements.

  17. Sucko-T says:

    Fast forward to next week, “Starbucks has announced plans to give a unique name to every store in New York city. The name will reflect the area the store is located and will help them fit in more with the local community.”

  18. Underpants Gnome says:

    @Angryrider: Yes, everyone knows a big mac will clog their arteries, now people will also know that the shaker salad or chicken selects they’re ordering instead is just as bad or even worse.

    I can’t imagine what this’ll do for the sales of the triple thick shakes (1100+ calories).

  19. Gorky says:

    So lets make these companies waste millions of dollars making new menu signs so the 6 people who dont know that this crap is bad for you can see that its bad for you. Another example of government sticking their nose where it doesnt belong!!! All this is going to do is raise the price of food even more because they will pass on the cost of the new menus on to the consumers

  20. Judge: Calories To Be Ignored On Fast Food Menus In NYC!

    FTFY, Meg.

  21. jeff303 says:

    This isn’t terribly helpful since, contrary to popular belief, a calorie is not a calorie. [www.nutritionj.com]

  22. Veeber says:

    @chrisjames: Part of the problem for smaller independent restaruants is that its much harder to quantify the nutritional information. The large chains build their businesses on having standard items across the board so they can afford to submit their ingredients and recipes for analysis.

    Think of some of the things you make at home, could you tell us what the nutritional information is for every dish you cook? Independent restaurants may have different menus every day and it would become impractical to ask them to calculate the nutritional info each time.

  23. yasth says:

    @Gorky: Ok so say 3 million for new signs (seems pricey but what the heck) 8 million+ people in NYC proper (not counting tourists plus commuters) Ummm so total one time cost is going to be under $.50 a person. Actually much less in all likelihood.

    And given 8 million+ people I assure you far more then 6 people (what is that .00075%) will care. Most likely the numbers will hold at around 10-15%. Think foreigners visiting, think people dragged along, etc.

  24. adamcz says:

    I’m surprised so many are complaining about this law, which could have all sorts of minor benefits. It will help consumers ordering from a menu to choose the lesser of two evils (chicken vs beef, etc), and will encourage the fast food industry to get a few healthier choices onto their menus.

  25. Imafish says:

    I agree with others here that this is nonsense.

    First, as long as the information is available somewhere in the resturant, why does it also have to be on the menu?

    Second, we already know that fast food is bad for you, yet people eat it anyway.

    Third, anyone concerned with their health would never see those menus because they would avoid fast food restaurants.

    This is nothing more than momma-state nonsense. Please move on to situations where consumers are being screwed. That’s why we come here.

  26. chrisjames says:

    @Chris Vee: Yes, except the analysis is not mandatory. Restaurants are allowed to estimate. It’s not easy, but it’s still unfair targeting. “They can afford it so it’s okay.” What the hell?

  27. Mom2Talavera says:

    A person that chooses to eat at McDonald’s doesn’t care about calories much mess their health!

  28. Mom2Talavera says:

    less! god damn it…no edit button!

  29. Thataboy says:

    This is long overdue, though these restaurants should have constantly updated, complete nutritional info (e.g., fat, protein, carbs, fiber, calories) at each register.

    Do you people think food labels on grocery store food is so “nanny state”? I mean, obviously cookies are bad for you, so why bother with more information?

    McDonalds is a favorite example… yes most people know Big Macs are pretty bad for you, but tons of fast food is far worse. People think McDonalds’ salads drenched in dressing are healthier. They are in for a shock.

    Do you people really think 99% of consumers know how many calories many Starbucks drinks have? What about the 1000+ calorie Chipotle burritos? How much sugar is in Pinkberry?

    What is the harm to these restaurants, unless they have something to hide… unless they count on consumers’ ignorance for the continued purchase of their products?

  30. Elijah-M says:

    If everyone who eats a Big Mac knows how bad it is for them, surely the restaurants effected by this law should have no reservations about complying with it.

  31. plustax says:

    @chrisjames: You know that’s a great idea to rename each outlet and to even form seperate legal entites for each one but the fatal flaw here is that I would imagine each one of these restaurants are already seperate legal entities seeing that most McDonald’s are franchises. I guess the 15 restaurant (as a nationwide concept not just NYC locations) rule is to make sure Fast Eddie’s on 86th and Broadway doesn’t have to try to figure out how many calories are in that cheesy beef grinder with grilled onions on a French roll.

    Is it lunch time yet?

  32. Techno Viking says:

    Well, I don’t give a damn about the calories as much as what’s in the food. The ingredients are what’s important people. Do you know what goes into fries for example. A lot of preservatives and they are man-made so it may be nice to know how much salt, and other stuff is there but ultimately its nothing compared to the knowledge of what kind of chemicals were bonded with the food on the molecular level because these days this is what is happening to your food. Take a look around, everywhere you go to buy something, there are so many chemicals in the food when they don’t have to be there. For example, flavoring which are of course man-made designed to enhance your taste and smell. Do you need them, no because your tongue already has a huge amount of small cell receptors go to the mirror and look at your tongue they are like dots, a forest grouped together all over your tongue. If you don’t smoke or drink a lot of alcohol you will have many and this is what allows you to get that rich taste of food molecules. So it’s better to see the food composition and not just the calories.

  33. BillyShears says:

    While I’m a firm believer in the notion that if you’re eating out at a fast food joint you’re probably not too concerned with your health anyway, this is probably a good idea.

    Seeing that a #3 from the value menu has your recommended DAILY intake of calories could probably scare a lot of otherwise apathetic people into a healthier lifestyle.

  34. stacy75 says:

    Whatever, I’m thrilled they are doing this.

    I got stuck waiting for a client out of town and popped into the local mall to wait around. I was starving and was at a loss for better food choices. I went with Chick-fil-a because they had their nutritional info posted.

    PS – Fantastic point, Elijah M!!

    (I had a kid’s meal, BTW.)

  35. trujunglist says:

    Fuck you all, way to go NYC. If every product I buy from a store has that information, it makes sense to have it in restaurants too. You can try being on a healthy diet and MOST of the time eat salad and tuna fish, but let’s fucking face it, we all find ourselves in situations where it’s fast food or nothing at all. If I were on a healthy diet (which I’m not, but I try to eat well and I workout fairly often), I would really want to know which option was going to be the least destructive, or conversely, which option would be the MOST destructive for the least amount of money.
    In any case, it helps consumers evaluate their purchases and leads to less confusion and bitterness in the end. I’m sure many of you have seen Super Size Me. Recall in that movie that a McD’s salad shaker thing had a tremendous amount of calories, mostly due to the dressing. People generally view salads as healthy eating, but in this case the opposite was true.
    So, I can see how overall this is entirely helpful and does no damage except to the corporations who want that information to remain somewhat mysterious to take advantage of it.

  36. theblackdog says:

    I was at the Nathans in Coney Island yesterday, they already have the calorie charts up. It was a rather fascinating read.

  37. People already know these places will kill them. And like the average person will know how many calories are too much, or how close one sandwich will get them to their RDA.