Press Releases

Senators, Public Health Community & Restaurant Industry Reach Historic Agreement to Provide Nutrition Information at Chain Restaurants

Mandatory Disclosure of Calories on Menus and Menu Boards Will Help Reduce Rising Obesity Rates by Enabling Americans to Make Healthier Food Choices When Dining Out

Jun 10 2009

WASHINGTON, DC – A bipartisan coalition of senators on the Senate healthcare committees, as well as numerous public health organizations and the restaurant industry today announced an agreement that would require chain restaurants to list calories on their menus and menu boards.

The compromise combines key elements of the Menu Education and Labeling (MEAL) Act, sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and the Labeling Education and Nutrition (LEAN) Act, sponsored by Senators Tom Carper (D-DE) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). 

“The individual and societal costs of poor nutrition and diet-related chronic disease compel us to take concrete steps to fashion a society in which the healthy choice is the easy choice, and in which prevention always comes before treatment,” said Senator Harkin. “The menu labeling agreement reached this week will not only help consumers to make informed decisions about their health when eating out, but is a critical part of a broader re-orientation to a society of prevention and health promotion.”

“Obesity is a growing problem in our nation where more than 1 in 3 Americans are overweight,” said Senator Carper. “With our busy lifestyles and more Americans eating out, diners need easy access to nutritional information. Our menu labeling compromise is a common-sense solution that provides consumers with the tools and resources they need to make healthier decisions when eating out.”

“Today, America is facing an obesity epidemic which must be addressed at the national level. It's been nearly 20 years since Congress enacted legislation that   requires all packaged foods to include nutrition information. However, there is not a comparable national standard for prepared foods. This compromise will allow Americans to be informed about the nutrition content of their foods prior to the point of purchase. This will include calorie information on the menu board at both fast food establishments as well as at sit-down restaurants,” Senator Murkowski said.

Under the agreement, restaurants that are part of a chain with 20 or more locations doing business under the same name would be required to disclose:

- On the menu or menu board, the number of calories per menu item;

- In a written form, available immediately to consumers upon request, additional nutrition information, including total calories and calories from fat, and amounts of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates, sugars, dietary fiber and protein.

The agreement also requires the disclosure of calories per food items on vending machines owned by individuals operating 20 or more vending machines. This bipartisan compromise will not require individually owned restaurants or “mom and pop” operations to disclose nutritional information.

To ensure that consumers receive nutrition information in a consistent manner, the proposal establishes a uniform standard regarding which nutrition items are disclosed on menus and menu boards, and the manner of the disclosure. Similar consistency was established for the Nutrition Facts panels for packaged foods when Congress enacted the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, the law which first established nutrition labeling for foods in grocery stores.

Both the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions and the Finance Committee will take up health reform legislation within weeks. The menu labeling compromise will be a component of the prevention and public health title of that legislation.

The agreement is supported by a number of organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Diabetes Association, American Dietetic Association, California Center for Public Health Advocacy, the American Heart Association, Center for Science in the Public Interest, The Coalition for Responsible Nutrition Information, Darden Restaurants, Dunkin’ Donuts, Brinker International, the National Restaurant Association, The Nemours Foundation in Delaware, the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University and Joseph W. Thompson, MD, MPH, Surgeon General, State of Arkansas.