Press Release

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Sue Ducat
Director of Communications
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The FDA's Menu-Labeling Rule


A new policy brief from Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation looks at a vigorously debated rule of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), taking effect on December 1, 2015, requiring most food establishments in the United States to list the calorie count of the food they sell. It is the first nutrition-labeling mandate enacted in more than twenty years and comes at a time when more than one in three American adults are obese, with the percentage of calories consumed in restaurants almost doubling since the 1970s. While studies so far have not identified a statistically significant change in calorie consumption from menu labeling, some have argued that even a small reduction in calorie intake can go a long way in reducing the likelihood of certain chronic diseases such as diabetes.


Topics covered in this brief include:


      • What's the background and the law? As the brief explains, in 1994 the FDA required nutritional information be displayed on packaged food but exempted restaurants and other ready-to-eat establishments. The new, proposed rule, which is based on a section of the Affordable Care Act, requires some 300,000 establishments to clearly display the calories contained in standard menu items. An important goal of the law is that it requires labeling for all establishments selling "restaurant-like" food, such as grocery store salad bars and roadside convenience stores. The rule will preempt any existing local or state laws.

      • What's the debate? While the law may seem straightforward, there were vigorous debates about every word of the FDA rule. The brief summarizes the key debates over what kind of food establishments are affected, the cost of compliance, and how much of an impact calorie labeling would make on consumers' menu selections.

      • What's next? With less than six months to go before the rule takes effect, one major unresolved issue is determining who will enforce it-local officials, FDA inspectors, or both. With some members of Congress trying to delay implementation, the FDA recently released a compliance guide that restates the requirements "in plain language."
About Health Affairs

Health Affairs is the leading journal at the intersection of health, health care, and policy. Published by Project HOPE, the peer-reviewed journal appears each month in print, with additional Web First papers published periodically and health policy briefs published twice monthly at Read daily perspectives on Health Affairs Blog. Download weekly Narrative Matters podcasts on iTunes.