Calorie Count Rules Coming To Theaters, Airplanes, Convenience Stores, Supermarket Food Courts

The FDA says the law that requires restaurant chains with more than 20 locations to post calorie counts also applies to other types of businesses, reports the Wall Street Journal. Specifically, movie theaters, airplanes, trains, food courts in grocery stores, and convenience stores are all considered chains and will soon have to start following the law. The agency hasn’t made up its mind yet whether things like salad bars in grocery stores will have to fall in line. The FDA will announce official guidelines in December.

“Coming Soon: Theaters, Airplanes to Post Calories “ [Wall Street Journal (subscription required)]


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  1. PunditGuy says:

    Even this big-government liberal thinks this is a stretch, unless Congress specifically mentioned these types of business in either the legislation or in hearings.

    • full.tang.halo says:

      Give me a break, laws go outside the intentions of the lawmakers all the time. You think idiots who got drunk and had a wee in an alley were the intended people lawmakers wanted to be put on sex offender lists?

    • KillerBee says:

      “The agency hasn’t made up its mind yet”

      Doesn’t seem to matter what the law says or what Congress intended. Apparently, agencies like the FDA can decide for themselves who needs to follow the law or not. Last time I checked it was up to the courts to interpret the law, not agencies of the executive branch. Who watches the watchers?

      • Tim says:

        Ugh. Congress delegates some authority over things like regulation, enforcement and rulemaking to executive agencies. Executive agencies are overseen by the president. But Congress tells them what to do and what not to do. If they didn’t have that power, Congress would be bogged down with the smallest of issues and wouldn’t have time to actually do important things.

        In other words, if Congress doesn’t want the FDA to enforce this law upon theaters, airplanes, convenience stores, etc., they can simply pass a law to say that.

        Why do so many people not get how executive agencies work?

    • ShruggingGalt says:

      What did you expect? The sponsors of the bill DIDN’T EVEN READ THE BILL before voting for it. They “hire people” to do that for them.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        Well, Congressmen/women are not experts at everything. They usually have 1-3 specialties they focus on. After that, they require experts at everything else (and there is a lot of everything else) to assist them. One aspect of that is to read legislation that the Congress-person would not be able to understand the full ramifications, legislative history, precedent, or nuances between current states and federal laws.

        Sure, it sounds terrible when you say it like, “They don’t even read the bills they are voting for!” but the reality of the situation makes a lot of sense and is not as alarmist as you make it.

        • nova3930 says:

          And oddly enough even with thousands or “experts” they still can’t seem to understand all the ramifications and interactions with existing laws, rules and regulations.

          To me that’s a sign that things are already far too big and complicated and we all be better off without Congress….

          • Gulliver says:

            Everything in life is “too complicated” then. Nobody can predict anything 100% accurately. MS can come up with a new OS, but sometimes certain software will not be compatible when you install some thing sin the wrong order. The permutations of things in life are pretty high, and each thing comes as it is needed. The law IS in fact a good one. I want nutrition information wherever I go to eat, and should be mandatory

        • ShruggingGalt says:

          Would you have surgery from a surgeon who is told by someone else how to perform the surgery? Being elected to Congress means that your job is to pass legislation. So why are you voting on it without reading it? If it is okay for them to not read the laws before voting, then in reality, our government isn’t in the control of corporations/unions, but rather the select few of ‘experts’ that are hired by our legislators to read the bills to them and give a summary.

          Normally I probably wouldn’t get mad about it, but Senator Bachus’ admission about the health care bill plus Barney Frank’s statement of “We don’t know what the legislation will do until after we pass it” about the financial reform bill just make me sick.

          • Im Just Saying says:

            Hasnt every surgeon been told by another surgeon how to do it? How else did they learn?

          • evnmorlo says:

            Politicians care very little about the content of bills even if summarized by an expert. They are mostly concerned what they will personally gain from their vote. Party and lobbyist pressure and vote-trading are their daily business.

          • psm321 says:

            Would you have surgery from a surgeon who learned in school from other people how to do it? Or only one that has come up with the techniques him/herself?

  2. Rachacha says:

    Why stop there. What about vending machines, or the concession carts in NYC. Many of these are owned by a single company and franchised or leased out to private individuals to run.

    This is all useless unless companies can accurately report the calorie count and other nutritional information. I remember seeing a news story on frozen meals (Lean Cuisine etc.) and the reporter indicated that most of the major brands were innacurately reporting the nutritional information as lower calorie counts than what was actually present in the meal. As I recall, the FDA allows a certain variation above and below the actual amount , and these meals were exceeding that allowance by 2-3x.

    Nutritional information is great, but only if it is accurate.

    • bhr says:

      you will always have a range though. Take a Chicken Parm frozen meal. If one dish gets just a few extra bits of cheese you can see a 10% jump (maybe 20-30 cals). Same goes for anything with cream sauces, mayo or any other high-calorie ingredients.

      Personally I choose to patronize restaurants that publish their calorie counts (Im doing this whole weight loss thing) but I dont think they should be forced to do so, except by customer demand.

    • your new nemesis says:

      Vending machines sell single serving snacks where the nutrition info is already on the package.

      • j_rose says:

        But you can’t see it until you’ve bought it.

        • pantheonoutcast says:

          If you’re so concerned with the nutritional content of your food that you need to read the fine print on the packaging, perhaps you shouldn’t be purchasing your food from a vending machine in the first place.

          • Alvis says:

            Um, why not?

          • Rachacha says:

            I agree that vending machines typically do not offer the most nutritious food selections, but there are times when you are hungry and it may be your only option, so it would be nice if your were trying to look at notritional ratings to be able to see before purchasing that Hostess HoHos are less bad for you than the package of Hostess Cupcakes, or that the Sourcream and Chive potato chips have twice as much salt as the regular chips.

    • You Can Call Me Al(isa) says:

      Vending machines are going to be included in this, unless they own fewer than 20 machines.

    • TheWillow says:

      Concession carts have the calorie counts on them.

  3. full.tang.halo says:

    I don’t see how you could argue with food courts, or at least specifically, mall food courts. Most are filled by restaurant chains, chick-fil-a, Taco Bell, Pizza Villa, etc.

    Movie theaters seem like an odd one. But really, they sell all of 10-20 items at most if you slap a sticker on the candy case with all the calorie counts.

    • Jeff_Number_3 says:

      Probably movie theatres because people understimate how many calories the pound of oil they put on their popcorn is contributing to their waistline.

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        But movie theater popcorn is so delicious! I only have it four or five times a year, at most, so I can justify a small popcorn (which, more often than not, I get for free from my AMC moviewatcher rewards).

    • ShruggingGalt says:

      it can’t be a sticker – I believe the law specifies that it must be the same size font as the menu item. Maybe not – but it has to be obvious and readable.

      “in a nutrient content disclosure statement
      adjacent to the name of the standard menu item, so as
      to be clearly associated with the standard menu item,
      on the menu board, including a drive-through menu board,
      the number of calories contained in the standard menu
      item, as usually prepared and offered for sale; and..”

      Sec 4205 of the Healthcare bill.

      • full.tang.halo says:

        Most candy is listed as a flat rate on the menu board for a “box” something like Candy – $3.50.
        The same price for m&m’s, skittles, junior mints, etc. While not exactly per the law, it would be a good interpretation of the spirit of the law.

        Which is why it’ll never happen….

  4. mattarse says:

    I’ve never understood how this is supposed to work in actual restaurants where cooks are able to modify the dishes as they cook in order to make it better (or worse). It works in places that serve prepackaged stuff sure, but no cook measures every dish they serve.

    • DoubleBaconVeggieBurger says:

      Chain restaurant chefs don’t just make up recipes on the fly, they have recipes to ensure standardization across the brand.

  5. Conformist138 says:

    I admit, I like the idea, though it being law is questionable. I would have preferred companies had just chosen to do it. But, over and over, “demand” for these things never takes off because people just don’t realize what they’re doing. I know we never go to fast food or similar places with the expectation of eating healthy, but just think of the number of times we’ve heard (or said ourselves) “Wait, that was HOW MANY CALORIES?” cuz so many people just can’t fathom there being 700-900 calories packed into certain items.

    I nearly fell over the first time I realized there were nearly as many calories in a Big Carl burger combo as I eat in an entire day! When the calories are posted, rather than handed in a map-like fold out, it’s been shown people tend to order fewer calories than if it’s not posted. It might be subconscious, but this policy does help consumers make better choices (or at least informed ones).

    • wrjohnston91283 says:

      Wasn’t there an article on Consumerist last spring about how in lower income areas people are ordering MORE calories with the counts listed? It was theorized that people were trying to get the most calories per dollar spent. It made some sense – if I have $3 to spent on food today, shouldn’t I try to get the most “bang” for my buck?

      • aloria says:

        I used to do this when I was a poor college student. Higher calorie counts tend to be more filling, plus if you are on a limited budget, you certainly don’t want to try running on a dollar’s worth of apples when a dollar’s worth of ramen noodles or mac & cheese gets you so much more energy.

  6. apd09 says:

    Education on what people are eating and the calories in it are a good thing, but if people do not care it doesn’t matter. I wonder if the movie theaters will have to allow people to start bringing in healthy food options as well as their own water. I know that just because McDonald’s or a movie theater posts the calorie count, it doesn’t matter if someone does not read it or does not care. Everything comes back to personal choice and everyone knows that butter soaked popcorn is not good for you but when at the movies it is almost required for movie watching. Once and a while is fine, but if you take children out for a McDonalds for dinner and then a movie letting them eat whatever they want, just because the calories are there to be viewed does not mean that it will change the behavior of people.

  7. myCatCracksMeUp says:

    I’m glad to see this. There is no reason that business that sells food for immediate consumption, that has more than 20 locations, should be excluded.

    I find using the nutrition information to be very useful in helping me stay healthy and trim. For example, at Panerra there are salads and sandwiches that are very hight in calories and fat, and there are others that are reasonably low in calories and fat. If I have a salad or sandwich I’m going to eat the whole thing, so I’d like to choose the one with the fewest calories and fat that still sounds appealing.

    • syzygy says:

      I don’t want to be snarky here, but there’s a really easy way to figure out just how many calories are in the salads and sandwiches you’re consuming. Make them yourself. You can even tailor the ingredients to make sure they’re way tastier than any chain shop could ever manufacture. Just sayin’.

      • myCatCracksMeUp says:

        Oh, I completely agree. We (that is usuallyalmost always my husband) make almost all of our meals at home. From scratch using mostly non-processed foods. We’re pay close attention to what we put in our dishes. And the leftovers become part of the lunches we take to work. But occassionally eating at home isn’t convenient, and I still want to pay attention to the nutrition of the meals when we eat out. Just reading the descriptions isn’t enough to tell if something is normal restaurant high calories, or super-duper high calories.

    • 99 1/2 Days says:

      You can choose any place that does it, but no place should be forced to.

  8. Dallas_shopper says:

    Good. But does it also mandate that those calorie counts must be accurate within such a percentage of reality?

  9. pantheonoutcast says:

    As if we needed a way to make the lines at movie theaters, airplanes, trains, food courts, and convenience stores any slower, now we’ll have the Deal-a-Meal crowd whipping out a spreadsheet and performing a nutritional self-audit while I’m behind them trying to buy a box of Rasinettes.

    Also, from the article:

    “Health advocates say the change could be a powerful tool in fighting the obesity epidemic…”

    How exactly would that help anything? Fat people who eat six Big Macs a week and sit in front of the TV playing Xbox for 11 hours a day are not going to start scrutinizing the menu at a train station and say, “Whoa, 350 calories for a bran muffin? I better change my lifestyle!”

    • Bativac says:

      Yeah, it seems to me that if you really cared about the calorie count of these foods, you’d do the research beforehand and figure out that the double Whopper with cheese you are about to order is a thousand calories (that took four seconds of Googling).

      The only people who are really clamoring for businesses to post calorie counts are people who already watch what they are eating. Their desire to protect people from themselves, while admirable, is misplaced and would be better suited to a preschool playground.

    • DoubleBaconVeggieBurger says:

      The reason for this law is that not every chain restaurant has chosen to share their nutrition data. Yes, McDonald’s has, but you wouldn’t want overweight people eating at McDonald’s every day, now would you?

      As someone who is trying to lose a few pounds, I am really happy about this going into effect. I realize that when I eat out, it’s not as healthy as what I would have made at home. But is it 1000 calories? 1500 calories? How much fat is in it? This makes a big difference in what I choose to eat the rest of the day, and the rest of the week.

      • pantheonoutcast says:

        So the government should be able to force private businesses to spend millions of dollars in printing fees alone in order to make calorie charts available to people who wish to “lose a few pounds”?

        I’m glad you’re trying to be healthy and all, but I wonder, how exactly did we as a society manage to “lose a few pounds” in the decades prior to unchecked governmental intrusion?

    • Tombo says:

      It’s probably more like the people who eat a small popcorn which is only 200 calories at home ends up being 2,000 at the movie theatre.

      Salads are healthy right? 1000+ calories at restaurants.

  10. shaner55418 says:

    How long before the FDA realizes that people are still buying high-fat, high-calorie foods despite the nutritional labels, and just decide to ban them outright? They know best, dontcha know.

  11. mandy_Reeves says:

    glad to hear this! I have weight watchers mobile…it has about 90 percent of the eateries out there…but this may help with the few who are weird about publishing stuff… Famous Daves I’m looking in your direction…

  12. JulesNoctambule says:

    Seems like all this time, money and energy warning people about the calories in the cheap convenience foods they’re eating could be spent making healthy, fresh foods more accessible and more affordable instead.

    • pantheonoutcast says:

      But that might divert money away from the oh-so-important corn subsidies! Then farmers would have to work for a living and my Coke would taste normal – can’t have that!

  13. AllanG54 says:

    I figure what will happen is one of two things. Either people will ignore the counts and get what they want (I do this) or people will start to eat healthier in which case lots of choices will be taken off the market due to lack of sales. I can just see flight attendants rolling their eyes as they will now have to announce how many calories in your two cent bag of peanuts even though on many of the items it’s clearly printed.

  14. firestar says:

    I’m really excited about this. I don’t eat out too often, I do pack my own lunch, but once in awhile I do have work meetings at restaurants, and go out with friends, and during those times I don’t really have time to go online because it’s usually impromptu. I’m doing good with losing weight an counting my calories, so it’s nice to have something like this to help out.

  15. giax says:

    If the “serving size” is not the whole serving, it doesn’t matter.
    If you look at a bag of potato chips, the serving size is nearly always listed as 1 oz. I don’t know anyone who would want to have an 1 oz potato chip serving… but the calories are definitely much much less than if they were listed for, say 100g, or the whole bag.

    So unless they’ll specify that 1 restaurant meal = 1 serving, similar tricks to make it look to contain less calories are probably going to be used. Serving size: 1/4 beef?
    And if the salad is swimming in mayo infested dressing, count those calories too.

  16. LisaLisa says:

    From the article: “People don’t go to movie theaters for the primary purpose of eating,” said Gary Klein, a vice president for a group representing theater owners. “Why aren’t ballparks covered? You think the food served at ballparks is healthy?”

    That’s actually pretty funny/relevant to me, because I recently started counting my calories strictly. When I went to the movies a few weeks ago, I was googling things like “movie theater popcorn calories” and “mini pretzel movie theater calories”. I found some decent approximations but nothing I really trusted.

    Then two weeks ago, I then went to a baseball game at Fenway. I spent probably an hour that day trying to find even a list of FOOD they serve at the stadium, let alone calories. I wanted to pick out my foods/options/calories ahead of time so that after a few drinks, I wouldn’t go to the food stand and order a million calories worth. I was pretty pissed off that they didn’t have the foods they serve listed, let alone the calories.

    I think any establishment that serves food should give general approximations. If not of the calories, at least provide full ingredients lists. Those of us watching our weight, and with dietary allergies/intolerances, would really appreciate it.

    • Tombo says:

      Also, possibly not entirely relevant, but movie theaters make the majority of their money from concessions, not the ticket. The MPAA get’s almost all of that.

  17. I wumbo. You wumbo. He- she- me... wumbo. Wumbo; Wumboing; We'll have thee wumbo; Wumborama; Wumbology; the study of Wumbo. says:

    Calorie counting is stupid. Less calories =/= healthy

  18. Tombo says:

    What took me a while to grasp, because it is so counterintuitive, is that in this day and age, it’s the cheap food that is fattening. In decades prior, the well off were more likely to be fat and the poor were unhealthily thin. Due to modern chemistry in food making, it’s the opposite.

    Having said that, in this “bottom line” age, manufacturers use the cheap fatso ingredients to boost their profits. It’s easier to do when consumers don’t know that the manufacturers are doing this. An effective way for the consumer to at least have an idea that they are being fed cheap overly fattening food is the calorie counts.

    Example: A Ruby Tuesday’s Turkey burger. Turkey “burgers” are supposed to be healthy, otherwise I’d rather have the cow burger, because it doesn’t taste horrible. Their turkey burger is 815 calories by itself. That’s just over 3 (three) McD’s hamburgers. So much for healthy. Bet they make a sweet profit off ignorance though.

    • wrjohnston91283 says:

      Don’t compare a Ruby Tuesday burger to a McDonalds burger. A Ruby Tuesday beef burger starts at just under 1000 calories, and that’s with no cheese.

  19. watch me boogie says:

    Do we really need calorie counts on a salad bar? It’s just common sense:

    Prepared stuff is packed with calories/sodium etc.

    Dressings add a zillion calories

    Raw stuff is low-cal and nutritious

    Ta-da! There’s your nutrition label.

  20. Torgonius wants an edit button says:

    If they (elected idiots) are serious about this, then why all the half-assed measures?

    Why not just mandate that since they know what’s best for us, we are only allowed to eat a small variety of nutritional pastes in various flavors that will give us exactly how many calories we are supposed to have. We would only be able to get our daily allotment at the gymnasium.

    No half-assed nanny state! We need a fully-assed nanny state!