Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The First Lady and the Let's Move Campaign

It has been a full year since First Lady Michelle Obama launched the Let’s Move campaign to the Country.  The campaign’s main focus is to reduce the rate of childhood obesity in America.   To the public, Let’s Move emphasizes the importance of healthier eating choices and increasing physical activity.  Behind the scenes, Mrs. Obama has been working hard on encouraging beverage and food companies to cut calories and salt from their product offerings, and to be more transparent about their products’ nutritional contents. 

A recent article from the New York Times reported that the Michelle is now setting her sights on the restaurant industry.  Apparently, the Let’s Move campaign is having conversations with the National Restaurant Association about starting a program that would encourage restaurants to offer smaller portions and healthier options for kids menus. 

The Obamas are long time proponents of menu labeling as means of educating the public about their food choices.  President Obama even included mandatory nutrition labeling for chain restaurants as part of the National Health Care Reform Bill which has drawn a lot of praise and criticism. 

Not much has been released about what will be involved in this new program aimed at restaurants, but I am pretty sure that it will be voluntary, nothing like the Toy Ban.  I have already been noticing a lot of healthier kids options on restaurant menus, so I feel like this may be pretty well received by the industry. 

What do you think?  Will restaurants buy into a program to support healthy eating for kids? 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Menu labeling: Give it time

Recently I posted about the menu labeling bill in New York City, and the lack of results in healthier ordering to come from it.  I have similar findings to report form you from King County Washington’s menu labeling bill.

The King County Menu Labeling Law has been in effect for over a year now, and although King County residents may be coming accustomed to seeing calorie counts on menus and menu boards when they go out to chain restaurants, it doesn’t seem to be having much affect on what they actually end up ordering.  These findings come from a study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine that examined ordering patterns at seven Taco Time locations.  They compared ordering patterns from before and after the law had taken affect, and the results:  Nada. 

Some think that these results, along with the New York study in 2009 with similar results show that these menu labeling laws are a waste of time, and will not have any effect on America’s obesity epidemic.  But others, like me, think that it’s just too soon to influence behavioral change.  This isn’t the first time we have seen slow progress towards healthy patterns; take smoking...

In the 1960’s new medical information came out that linked smoking cigarettes to poor health and some cancers; kind of like how recently obesity has been linked to health complications like diabetes and hypertension.  The US Surgeon General Warning about cigarettes came out in 1964.  Let’s take a look at the effect that had on smoking rates:

As you can see, the warning did not give result in an instant decline in smoking, but rates did eventually decline by quite a bit.  And now, 40 plus years later smoking itself isn’t nearly as glamorous as it was in the 50’s and 60’s.  This may be an indication that people will come around to ordering healthier items in due time. 

What do you think, is menu labeling all for nothing, or do we just need to give it a few years?  

Monday, February 7, 2011

Setting the Record Straight: What’s going on with the National Menu Labeling Law?

Setting the Record Straight:  What’s going on with the National Menu Labeling Law?

As many of you know, the National Health Care Reform Bill that president Obama signed into law last year includes a menu labeling section.  This law will require chain restaurants to provide nutrition facts on menus and menuboards.  I detailed more information about the law as it was initiallywritten in a previous blog post.  If you take a look at the information provided in the initial passage of this law, you will see that it is pretty skimpy. 

Since the law’s passage I have been getting a lot of questions from my clients and other restaurant operators about how this law will affect them, and what they will need to do.  My answer to most of their questions: “I don’t know”.  It’s not just me; there is a lot that has simply not yet been written by the FDA who is responsible for writing and enforcing this law.

The thing that has a lot of us worried is that the law states that it should go into affect one year from the bill’s passage: that’s March 23, 2011; really soon for not having all the facts yet.  To avoid panic I contacted a colleague, in public affairs at the National Restaurant Association.  He confirmed that we are still without a set timeline or set posting rules for this legislation, but they (the FDA) have alluded to the fact that they will be releasing details by the one year anniversary of the legislation (better late than never right?).  Because the law, in its entirety will have just been released at that point, restaurants will not be expected to comply right away; that date is still to be determined. 

Here are some common questions I get from operators that we are hoping will be answered in the final version of the law:

·         How to display variations of a singly listed menu item (i.e. choice of sides, flavors, sizes,…etc).
·         When and how the law will be enacted andenforced.
·         If self-service (buffet) items will need to belabeled.
·         If trans fat values will need to be labeled.
·         Exact font size specifications. 
·         If marketing materials/promo menus will beaffected.
·         If food tags/items on display will need to belabeled.
·         If catering menus will be affected.

In summary:  Sit tight, we are still waiting to hear all ofthe rules.  Nevertheless, all restaurants with 20 or more locations shouldstart preparing for nutrition disclosure ASAP. 

UPDATE:  The FDA has withdrawn the original draft of the law that was previously introduced.  This means that the limited information that we have had for the past few months is no longer valid pending final draft of the law to be released to the public March 23, 2011.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Do you want to see more nutrition information on menus?

A little over a year ago I posted a blog about the lack of change in restaurant food ordering resulting from the New York City menu labeling law. Now, with the upcoming national menu labeling law it looks like diners are starting to have a change of heart.

A few months ago myself and FoodCALC’s Brand Coordinator, Lara Baldwin hit the streets to ask real diners what they thought about nutrition labeling in restaurants, and if it made a difference in their ordering. Here is a look at some of the responses we got:

Ok, please don’t judge us on our videography/interviewing skills, but setting that aside, we spoke a lot of people who said that they would like to see nutrition information on menus, and would order healthier items because of it.

And, this isn’t just in California. A recent study from the NPG Group shows that Americans across the country are making healthier dining choices when eating out. The study showed an overall decline in the sales of sugary soft drinks, french fries, hot dogs, and fried chicken, and an increase in purchase of milk, grilled chicken and grilled chicken sandwiches, non-fried fish, breakfast cereals, fruit and yogurt.

This may be due to the availability of nutrition information, making for more informed and health conscious decisions, or the increased availability of healthier options, or both. Where there once was only fried chicken, there now is a grilled, where there once was only soda there is now milk, change is good….