Should more cities follow New York's lead and force restaurants to post the nutritional content of their menu items?
Last summer I had the opportunity to go down to California with my family for a couple of weeks of rest and relaxation. During my stay, I noted that a number of the chain restaurants had begun posting nutritional information on their menus. At first I thought it might have been a decision of the local restaurant to "get ahead of the curve" and appeal to health-conscious Californians. However, I have subsequently found out that posting this type of nutritional information is now the law in California. The legislation was introduced by California Governor Schwarzenegger and is currently being phased in through 2011.
In New York City, they also passed a by-law forcing local restaurants to post nutritional information in a location where their customers could easily read it before placing their orders. The theory is that if people can actually see how much sodium, saturated fats and calories are in each menu item, they will be more inclined to choose healthier options.
At a recent visit to a McDonald's restaurant in Burnaby, I noticed they were now posting nutritional information on the outside of their burger and fries containers. A quarter pounder with cheese was just under 600 calories while the medium fries was about 400 or so. After I had chowed down my meal, I realized I had consumed half of the recommended caloric intake for the day. Without the nutritional information labeled on the outside of the containers, I'd have never known just how caloric my meal was. I guess I kind of knew it was fattening, just not quite how fattening.
As evidenced by McDonald's, some restaurants in Canada are now moving toward providing customers with the kind of nutritional information they are seeking. However, there are still many that are not. Therefore, should Canadian cities be following New York's lead and forcing big chain restaurants to post just how caloric or salty their food really is?
Clearly the restaurant industry would find this type of municipal legislation intrusive. When New York City imposed their new regulations back in 2007, they were taken to court by the New York State Restaurant Association (NYSRA). Earlier this year the court of appeal upheld the right of New York City to impose the nutritional labeling by-law and the legislation remains in place today. San Francisco also experienced similar legal battles when they introduced restaurant labeling legislation.
Here is what Dr. Thomas Friedman, NYC's Health Commissioner, told the New York Times after NYSRA lost their court case:
This is good news for everyone. Nearly all chain restaurants are now complying with the law. Consumers are learning more about the food before they order, and the market for healthier alternatives is growing. We applaud the court for its decision, and we thank the restaurant industry for living by the rules.
In their ruling upholding New York's labeling legislation, the judges stated:
The First Amendment is not violated, where as here, the law in question mandates a simple factual disclosure of caloric information and is reasonably related to New York City’s goal of combating obesity.
We should note that only restaurants with at least 15 separate outlets are affected by the NY legislation. As a result, single location mom and pop restaurants are not required to post nutritional information on their menus.
With Canadian kids getting more obese by the day, should cities take a more active role in helping to fight this epidemic? Now it's over to you. Do you think Canadian cities should follow New York's lead and implement this type of legislation?