President-elect Trump chooses a retired Marine general to head the Pentagon. Syrian rebels agree to form a new alliance as the regime bombards Aleppo. And thousands of Cubans turn out to watch Fidel Castro's funeral procession. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
Many movie-goers look forward to a big bucket of buttered popcorn. They have a pretty good idea it’s not a low calorie item, but sometimes it seems better just not to know. New rules from the FDA will change all that. Starting next year larger chain restaurants, convenience stores, movie theaters and some grocery stores selling prepared foods will be required to post calorie counts…. and that glass of wine you ordered with dinner? You’ll get the calorie count on that too. Please join us to discuss what the new FDA calorie label rules mean for consumers and for businesses now required to provide the information.
- Scott DeFife executive vice president of policy and government affairs, National Restaurant Association
- Sara Bleich associate professor, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
- Lyle Beckwith senior vice president, government regulation National Association of Convenience Stores
- Dr. Margaret Hamburg commissioner, Food and Drug Administration.
- Margo Wootan director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Yesterday the Food and Drug Administration announced new rules requiring many sit-down and fast food restaurants to post calorie counts for items on their menu. The idea is that armed with more information, consumers may make healthier choices. Joining me to talk about these new rules, what they could mean for consumers and companies in the food business, Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Scott DeFife of the National Restaurant Association.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining us by phone from Baltimore, Sara Bleich of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. And by phone from the northern neck of Virginia, Lyle Beckwith of the National Association of Convenience Stores. But first, joining us by phone from her office, Margaret Hamburg, commission of the FDA. It's good to have you with us, Madam Commissioner. Give us some of the background about why these new rules have come into effect.
DR. MARGARET HAMBURGOkay. Well, thank you so much for having me. And I think this is a very important discussion for us all to be having. Back in 2010, Congress passed legislation which actually asked the FDA to undertake a process to make calorie counts available on the menus of chain restaurants, and vending machines as well, if there were 20 or more locations. So we began a process to examine how that could actually be done. And yesterday we released our final rules, which will make this information available for consumers.
DR. MARGARET HAMBURGAnd we think that this will really be important, because we know the consumers want more information about matters that will affect their health and wellbeing, and that of their families. And we're already seeing many restaurants voluntarily putting calories on their menus because they know that's what consumers want. So this way we're going to have a uniform, nationwide approach that will enable people to get information that they can use, should they choose to, to make more informed choices. Hopefully healthier choices it the foods they eat.
REHMNow, what about the arguments from folks, for example, at The Heritage Foundation, who are arguing that the FDA interpreted Congress' mandate a little too broadly. And that prepared foods, for example, if Congress wanted to cover any establishment that sells prepared foods, they might have said that.
HAMBURGWell, Congress asked us to look at restaurants and restaurant-like establishments. And, you know, for example today's grocery store is very different than it was, you know, some 10, 20 years ago. And many grocery stores are offering a variety of prepared foods that are very similar to what's sold in certain restaurants or takeout facilities. And they even have little areas where you -- cafes where you can sit and eat that food.
HAMBURGSo, you know, we looked at what was the food product, how it was, you know, prepared and offered to the public. And if it was being offered as, you know, a menu item or part of a salad bar, which was specifically addressed in the law as well, if it was food that was ready to eat, offered for immediate consumption in the establishment, while walking away or soon after arriving at another location like a park or your office to eat what you bought, then we did feel it fit under the criteria and that consumers would want calorie information to be available so they could use that information if they chose to and they made their choices.
REHMBut you know walking into a movie theater and buying a big box of popcorn and enjoying every single kernel of it, I'm not sure I really want to know the calories. Do you think there's sort of a bit of a killjoy factor going on here?
HAMBURGWell, right now consumers can easily find calorie and other nutrition information on packaged foods that they buy.
HAMBURGBut it's really not available in restaurants or for takeout food or in other settings that are offering restaurant-like food, such as movie theaters. We are just trying to give consumers options, give them consistent and easy to understand calorie and nutrition information. And they can do with it as they please, but we think that this, in fact, is filling an important gap in terms of information available to consumers.
REHMDo you secretly hope or even plan that this kind of information will change consumer habits?
HAMBURGWell, we certainly know that overweight and obesity is an enormous problem in this country, taking a toll in terms of preventable health problems and serious chronic diseases, heart disease, stroke, diabetes. So many serious problems. And we know that Americans consume about one-third of their total calories from eating out, grabbing already prepared food from a restaurant or grocery store.
HAMBURGAnd they don't know how many calories they're consuming. And over consumption of calories is a major contributor to the overweight and obesity problems that are country are facing. So we do hope that consumers will -- armed with information, make healthier choices for themselves and their families. And we hope that industry will also offer healthier choices to consumers. And we're seeing much of that already.
REHMYou're including calorie information in alcoholic beverages, as well.
HAMBURGYes. If the alcoholic beverage is being offered in an establishment, a restaurant, a restaurant-like establishment that has 20 or more locations -- which is what the law specified -- and if that alcoholic beverage is appearing on a menu or a menu board, then it will be covered by these rules. And, of course, alcoholic beverages are a major source of calories in a diet, potentially.
HAMBURGIt's not going to be all alcoholic beverages. It certainly -- this calorie labeling requirement wouldn't apply to a six-pack of beer on a grocery store shelf, wouldn't apply if you went to the bar and asked for a special cocktail to be mixed. But if it's a standard menu item appearing on a printed menu or menu board, then it would be included.
REHMTell me how these rules, these new rules compare to those already in place in New York and Seattle?
HAMBURGWell, as you have indicated, various states and localities have put forward in the past calorie labeling and other nutritional labeling requirements. And with these new rules there will be a national uniform standard, which will apply across localities and regions and states. So I think that that will be a benefit for consumers. And certainly a benefit for companies who won't have to present information differently in different parts of the country. So I think that's a plus. And the goal in all of these efforts was to provide more information to consumers so they could make informed choices.
REHMCommissioner Hamburg, I'm sure you've heard from lots of business owners and restaurants and perhaps grocery stores. How do you address their concerns and what are they, for the most part?
HAMBURGWell, of course, there's been an enormous amount of interest as this process has gone forward and we first put out a proposed rule and took comments on it. We got more than 1,100 comments that were quite substantive, that we reviewed. We tried to get input and perspectives from all of the various stakeholders and concerned parties, as we shaped the rules to make them as flexible and responsive as possible, but also to address the fundamental mandate from Congress, which was to make this kind of nutritional information available to consumers.
HAMBURGSo where we've ended up I think, you know, is a very workable and meaningful approach. It will take time to implement and we'll be working closely with industry and the different subsets of the food business to enable them to make the transition as smoothly possible. Of course there will be some upfront costs, but there'll be enormous benefits that will outweigh the costs.
HAMBURGAnd, you know, I think the good news here is that the changes that we're asking for are really in keeping with what consumers want, what the marketplace is increasingly demanding. And we're already seeing national restaurant chains like Subway and McDonalds and Panera providing calorie information. I was having lunch yesterday at a local Potbellies here in Washington, D.C., and I noted that even though there's no law requiring it, they had put up calories on their menu.
HAMBURGSo I think it's the way we're going as a nation. And I think with what we're undertaking there'll now be a nationwide standard that will apply in a more consistent way. And that will benefit consumers.
REHMMargaret Hamburg, commissioner of the FDA. Thank you so much for joining us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Having now heard from the commissioner of the FDA about these new rules requiring many sit-down and fast food restaurants to post calorie counts for items on their menu, let's turn now to our other guests. Margo Wootan, she's at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Scott DeFife, he's at the National Restaurant Association. Both of them are here in the studio. Sara Bleich is at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She joins us from Baltimore. And Lyle Beckwith, he's at the National Association of Convenience Stores. He joins us from the northern neck of Virginia.
REHMMargo Wootan, let me start with you because I know you're been pushing for these rules for a number of years. You say they're stronger than even you expected.
MS. MARGO WOOTANI have been working on menu labeling for the last 12 years starting with state and local policies and then building toward a national policy which we worked with the National Restaurant Association on. And the FDA did a really terrific job of meeting the intent of the bill sponsors providing as much nutrition information as they could at a wide variety of establishments. So in addition to fast food restaurants there's also sit-down chain restaurants. The food stalls you see in the mall, grocery stores, convenience stores and movie theaters because people are eating at a lot of different kinds of food establishments. And they're covering all the items that are on the menu.
MS. MARGO WOOTANThis is really menu labeling. If the drink, the food is on the menu then calories will need to be posted for that standard item as it's usually offered for sale.
REHMSo what did you expect and how did the FDA go farther?
WOOTANWell, the FDA actually did all that we had hoped. There's only one place around vending machines where it isn't quite as strong as we had hoped. But they really did what I think is going to be best for the public. And what the public is asking for in national polling that we've done, Americans really want to have nutrition information at the wide variety of food establishments they eat at, so they can make their own decisions about how to eat. They might still get the popcorn at the movie theater, as I do, but instead of getting the large tub, get the medium tub and you can save yourself 5 or 600 calories.
REHMWell, I may or may not. Scott DeFife, turning to you, your organization the Restaurant Association I gather represents a number of businesses who are going to be required to comply. Tell me about their reaction.
MR. SCOTT DEFIFESure. Thank you. Thanks for having us on.
DEFIFEWe were very happy to support the menu labeling law that was enacted and worked with the commissioner in the FDA and other advocates on the regulations that just came out. The restaurant industry is very attuned customer demand, right. If people aren't coming into your restaurant, you know, you're going to change the menu or you're going to do what you need to do to get customers in the door. And if you're going to change your flavors or do what you need to do to get customers to come back.
DEFIFECustomers have been wanting this information. They've been asking for this information. They've been asking for more healthful options. And so restaurants have been working diligently to put that information together to change their menu options to provide more choice, and really want to react positively to what consumers are interested in. So the industry worked with everyone to put together a law that we felt would provide simplicity and a uniform national standard across the country so that it was easy for consumers to understand the information from place to place.
REHMAnd what about you, Lyle Beckwith, as the senior vice-president for government regulation at the National Association of Convenience Stores, how many of your members have real concerns about these rules?
MR. LYLE BECKWITHWell, thanks for having me, Diane.
BECKWITHI'm a regular listener and it's a joy to be on with you.
BECKWITHI know that the National Restaurant Association and the Center for Science and Public Interest are happy with these regulations but I would say that the happiest people are the multinational fast food restaurant chains who are pushing this. Look, McDonald's is number 106 on the Fortune 500 list. They don't go into something like this in a vacuum. They do extensive market research. And unlike public policy research, they're completely agnostic as to what the results are going to be. They just need to know what their customers want and how they're going to react.
BECKWITHAnd based on what -- their actions I think it's clear what they learned was three things. One, the consumer does not want menu labeling. If they did, McDonald's wouldn't need a regulation to require it. They would've done it years ago voluntarily. And all their competition would've had to join suit. Just like the first guy who -- first gas station who posted his price on a 6' sign out by the street. Once he did that, customers wanted it and everybody had to do it.
BECKWITHThe second thing is that this is not going to adversely affect sales of Big Macs or anything else that the fast food chain sells. They're publically-traded companies and their shareholders would never stand for that. You know, they made the decision to do this and it was not going to hurt sales. In fact, I would put forth the proposition that it will actually help their sales because number three, what this really comes down to is a regulatory compliance advantage the fast food restaurants now have over convenience stores and supermarkets.
BECKWITHA McDonalds in Sarasota, Fla. sells the same Big Mac as a McDonald's in Seattle, Wash. It's a very limited menu. All they have to do is send that menu out once for testing and then send it out to every other McDonald's in the country. Convenience stores and grocery stores are not homogonous like that. There's 150,000 convenience stores in the country and they're all different, even within the same chain. You know, within a chain there'll be some locations that will sell prepared food and others that won't. So this is really going to be -- it comes to a compliance cost. And the fast food industry has a huge advantage now and their ability to comply with this.
REHMTell me -- give me an estimate of what you think it might cost an individual convenience store to provide this kind of information.
BECKWITHWell, that's a great question and it really highlights what the problem is. There isn't a typical convenience store. There is a typical McDonald's but, you know, convenience stores can range anywhere from -- you know, you put up a convenience store on a lake and they sell minnows and worms and sandwiches. You put it out in South Dakota, they sell shotgun shells. You've got large convenience stores that focus on food. You’ve got other convenience stores that's just for sandwiches as a convenience but they don't sell a lot of it. So any given store or any given company is going to be a completely different compliance regime and quite frankly, I...
REHMSo I gather you're clearly not happy with this new rule. Let me turn now to Sara Bleich who is at Johns Hopkins. Sara, the FDA says these rules could help consumers change their habits. You -- I gather, you've done research on this and what do consumers do with this kind of information?
MS. SARA BLEICHSo we have done research on this from the side of the consumer and we've also looked at chain restaurants. On the side of the consumer, what we found is that when you give adolescents information about calories, it matters how you give it to them. And so we tested the impact of calorie information on sugary beverage purchases among adolescents and gave them the same piece of information, about 250 calories that are in a 20 oz. bottle of soda in three different ways.
MS. SARA BLEICHWe told them that it was equivalent to five miles of walking, to 50 minutes of running or to 16 teaspoons of sugar. And when we tested the impact of that information what we found is that if you want to get a kid to purchase fewer sodas, the best way to do it is to tell them they have to walk for five miles, and they buy less.
MS. SARA BLEICHNow that said, the point for us -- the take-home point from that research is that when we think about presenting calorie information there's probably a better way to do it than just giving absolute calories. But the step the FDA has taken in a very sweeping way say that calories have to be required in multiple venues is great. From our research, what we find is that there might be a better way to present that information to consumers.
BLEICHSuch as presenting it as something that's easy to understand. So in the case of children, if you tell them they have to walk for a certain number of miles, that has more of an impact on purchasing. So the question is how would you do that in the real world. And you could imagine a menu board where next to price, which calories have to now be posted, you might have a stick figure. And under that stick figure next to a hamburger or French fries it might say, six miles of walking or seven miles of walking. And if you saw that consistently everywhere then a person could use that metric then to make choices. And that's much easier for the average American to understand.
REHMMargo Wootan, how do you react?
WOOTANSo actually the main way that people use nutrition information in supermarkets, and likely in restaurants as well, is they compare similar options and decide between them. So they don't so much say, like, how does a giant hamburger fit into my diet for the day, they look at, do I want the triple burger, the double burger or the single burger. And they can see how things stack up and decide which one they want. So far the evidence around menu labeling is unclear because we only have menu labeling in a couple of places. And it's only been in effect for a short time. I think we'll see more and more of an impact of menu labeling overtime.
WOOTANBut the bigger studies do show a positive effect, not only on consumer choices but also on the restaurant's behavior. We're seeing companies reformulate their products to bring the calorie counts down for standard items on the menu, as well as introducing new items to make them lowers in calories.
REHMSara, I gather you've also looked at what some food providers have done, which is to reduce portion size as opposed to calorie counting.
BLEICHThat's right. So we looked at the largest revenue-generating chain restaurants in the country. And we looked at the average calories on the menu in 2012 and we compared them to newly introduced calories on the menu in 2013. And what we found is that over that period there was a 12 percent decline or 60 calorie decline in newly introduced menu items. So our takeaway is that over that period there were voluntary changes happening by large chain restaurants likely in anticipation of the ruling that came out yesterday.
REHMWhat do you think about that, Scott?
DEFIFEI would agree. I would agree completely. Whether the motivation was in preparation of the regulation or whether it was in response to consumer demand, I think both things come together. And I think definitely our members have been reporting the same thing. Our trend analysis year over year has shown an increasing number of healthful items on menus. And chefs report that the two or three of the top five things that they are interested in doing every year is expanding and broadening the menu and providing more healthful options, especially for children and for new menu items. It's a lot easier to introduce a new menu item than to reformulate, you know, a tried and true standard.
BLEICHAnd I would just add to that point that in the analysis that I just described of large chain restaurants, we also subsetted out the restaurants with a primary focus. So you focus -- you're Burger King and you focus on burgers, you're Pizza Hut, you focus on pizza. And to this issue that was just raised, what we found is that when you look at newly introduced items, restaurants with a signature focus are less likely to fiddle with the calories in the things that define them. They're much more likely, if you're a pizza place, to introduce a lower calorie salad.
REHMBut not to touch the calories in the pizza.
BLEICHThat's right. The things that make them who they are, they're less likely to reformulate those menu items.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We've got lots of callers, 800-433-8850. Let's go first to Joe who's in Rockville, Md. Hi, you're on the air.
JOEYeah, thank you. I 100 percent agree with one of your guests there that this is nothing more than unnecessary paternalism by the government that's going to unreasonably favor the large multinational companies. Imagine if you own a coffee shop that serves sandwiches and you're independent. How in the world are you going to compete with Starbucks or McDonald's or Panera or somebody like that? You have to incur all of those costs on your own and you can't spread it out over a lot of facilities.
WOOTANMenu labeling is actually not that complicated. You can hire a local dietician to help you or you can buy menu analysis software for less than $200. Just plug your recipes in and get the numbers and stick it on your menu. People make it sound like it's so onerous and you have to send your items out to the lab for a thousand dollars apiece. But that's not required by the law. They can just use software, put in their recipes and provide that information to their customers.
DEFIFEAnd also this law only applies and the regulation only applies right now to chains of 20 or more. That doesn't matter whether it's a restaurant, a convenience store, a grocery store. It doesn't matter what's on the outside of the building. It matters about whether there's a menu that is printed in 20 or more locations across the country.
REHMLyle Beckwith, do you want to weigh in?
BECKWITHI'm just thinking the last convenience store I went to didn't have - I wasn't handed a menu when I walked in. There was a rollers with some hotdogs on it and there was a little deli counter where you could tell them what you wanted. Now clearly there -- we've never argued that convenience stores should be exempt from this. This really comes down to what's the definition of a restaurant.
BECKWITHYou know, there are convenience stores out there who do focus on food and probably would come under this. We just think there should be a clear cut definition of what a restaurant is. And that would be your primary business is selling prepared food. So we submitted comments to the FDA suggesting that if 50 percent of your gross receipts came from prepared food, you should be considered a restaurant. Unfortunately FDA ignored those comments.
WOOTANSo the way that the FDA is addressing this and the way that congress intended is to address restaurant-type foods. So it's not going to be everything in the convenience stores. Packaged foods are already labeled. It's going to be those foods that are like at a restaurant. Many convenience stores have a little donut shop inside, a deli that makes sandwiches, hotdogs and other prepared foods. And more and more people are going to gas up their car and go into the convenience store just like a fast food restaurant.
WOOTANSo from the business standpoint, the convenience stores are arguing to consumers and advertising saying that they're restaurants. Come here and have lunch instead of going to a restaurant. But when they're in Washington, D.C. they're trying to pretend as if that's not their business model.
REHMSara, do you want to comment?
BLEICHAnd just one other point of clarification with respect to regulations. It applies to things that are constantly on the menu. It does not apply to things that might be a daily special. So that burden is not there for restaurants.
DEFIFEThat's accurate, and also if there is no menu or menu board, there's nothing to label. And so if somebody's just coming in to pick up the hotdog from the roller and there is nothing to label, then there's no menu to put menu labeling up.
REHMSo how is this...
WOOTANThe foods on display do have to be labeled. So if a food is on display for the customers to choose, like you know, when you go into Starbucks the drinks are on the menu board but the pastries are in a case. Foods that are on display in a case like that will have to be labeled, so the hotdogs on a roller, soda dispensers will have to be labeled so that people can make informed choices for those prepared foods.
REHMMargo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Short break here and when we come back, more of your calls, your comments, your email. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd welcome back as we talk about new rules that the FDA has imposed. One question, when do businesses have to implement the new information rules, Margot?
WOOTANSo for restaurants, grocery stores, convenience stores, movie theaters, that'll go into effect in a year so December 1, 2015. And for vending machines, it'll go into effect in two years in December 2016.
REHMAll right. Let's take another call. To Therese in Jacksonville, Florida, hi there, you're on the air.
THERESEHi. I just wanted to say something slightly funny. In the South, fried chicken is popular and it smells up the entire grocery stores. And I've taken to looking for grocery stores that do not fry chicken, like Whole Foods, at this point because it's just something you not want -- if it's a favorite of yours, you just really have to stay away from it. That's all I had to say.
REHMOkay, thanks for calling.
WOOTANYou know, more and more families are choosing to pick up takeout at the grocery store because that way, you can get the bread, get the milk, plus you can get the fried chicken, a couple of sides, a rotisserie chicken, some sandwiches, even pizza and take it home.
BLEICHSo people are using supermarkets and convenience stores like a restaurant these days and so they need to provide calorie information.
REHMAll right. To Kareem in Alexandria, Virginia. Hi there.
KAREEMGood morning. And thank you guys for taking my call.
KAREEMI just wanted to piggyback on a couple of the comments from earlier. So I'm a former math teacher and run a small curriculum company called Mathalicious and we write lessons around real world topics. And one of the lessons explores exactly this question of how long it would take to burn off different food items from fast food restaurants. So a Big Mac extra value meal has about 1400 calories, which, for a lot of people, doesn't mean anything because it's totally decontextualized.
KAREEMBut to put it in perspective, it would take Lebron James almost two full NBA games to burn off a Big Mac extra value meal. And as part of that lesson, and this is -- I have a question for your panel. As part of that lesson, students are given multiple versions of a McDonald's menu. One with no calorie information, one with calorie information and one with exercise information. In the first two, there's really no change in behavior, but the third, as one of your guests mentioned, people don't not buy an item. They just switch to a healthier item.
KAREEMSo I guess my question for your panel is to -- maybe Lyle can answer this, even though I know his focus is on convenience stores, is if McDonald's did write, did include information, might it actually do better? I would expect that the profit margin on a yogurt parfait is higher than something that's on the dollar menu. I mean, so...
REHMSarah, you want to respond.
BLEICHSo I'm very happy to hear about your Mathalicious program. Sounds like an exciting thing for students. And what I would say is that, you know, if McDonald's were to incorporate some sort of equivalent, like the miles of walking or the minutes of running on their menu, your question is, you know, would it expand sales? The answer to that, we don't know right now. What I think it might do is it might expand the consumer base.
BLEICHSo, for example, moms are a very powerful purchasing group. They spend about $2 trillion a year. And so a lot of them will take their children to a place like McDonald's to buy them food, but may not buy things for themselves. If they knew more about what was on the menu in terms of transparency around calories, they might then choose more options that they consider to be healthy for them.
BLEICHAnd so it could, in fact, help fast food restaurants expand their consumer base beyond the current key targets.
KAREEMYou know, there's a lot of hypothesis going on here. I would think that if a fast food restaurant thought that they could expand their consumer base by adding something to their menu, they would do that and they wouldn't need a regulation or a rule to tell them to do that. They would do it because it's good business.
WOOTANYou know, Diane, every regulation and law that I've worked on in nutrition policy over the last 20 years, initially the industry opposes. Scott and his folks opposed restaurant labeling initially, but they came around. Folks in the packaged food industry opposed trans fat labeling. Soda companies opposed getting out of schools. But what happens, over time, is that these regulations turn out to usually be good for business and all this crying wolf, you know, and all these high costs that they complain about, all this loss of business, it has never turned out to be true.
REHMHere's an interesting email from Susan in Cabin John. She says, "I completely agree with the discussion point that if consumers wanted calorie information, the McDonald's of the world would've instituted this as a practice." She says, "I challenge panelists to demonstrate data to prove that this is what consumers want, as opposed to quick, efficient, affordable food, especially among the social economic class who chose value for money."
REHMShe goes on to say, "a study done after New York State law was implemented showed an increase in purchase of high calorie items as the consumers perceived they were getting more calories for their money." Scott.
DEFIFEIn fact, I'm aware of that study as well and as Margo said, there's not enough scientific evidence yet to see exactly how consumers are behaving when calories are on the menu. But that study in New York, I believe it was a New York study, indicated that, especially for the value segment, people who were going for the value segment, they saw the calories on the menu as, look, I've got one opportunity for a calorie dense meal.
DEFIFEI'm gonna go for more calories for the dollar than I would -- it was the inverse...
REHMI'm not gonna worry about the pounds I'm...
DEFIFE...I'm not gonna worry about it if I've got one meal that I'm going for and I've got $5. I'm gonna get the most calories for the buck.
WOOTANThat was for young men.
BLEICHSo this issue about if consumers wanted it, then the industry would provide it is a little bit trickier than that because Americans have no idea about the calories that are in the foods that they consume. And what we saw, when New York City passed a menu labeling legislation back in 2007, there was tremendous shock when consumers when to places like Starbucks and they said, my coffee drink has how many calories?
BLEICHMy muffin has how many calories? And as a result, because of that uproar from consumers, we saw some reformulation and I think we'll continue to see reformulation like we just saw in the most recent analysis because consumers have no idea. And if they realized how many -- and now that they're realizing how many calories are in foods, I think they're going to start demanding lower calorie options and then chains are going to react as a result.
REHMInteresting. Wegmans has come forward and totally in agreement with this process.
WOOTANYeah, so Wegmans has been labeling their prepared foods since 2007 and they've just been waiting for the final regulations to finish that up. I think there are -- most of the large supermarkets around the country have dieticians on staff. They have menu analysis software and they're providing calories for some of their items, they're just not providing it for all of their prepared items. So this will make sure that it's not just the select few, that they want to provide calories for. They provide it for all the prepared foods.
BECKWITHOh, I think that completely supports the whole concept of if the customers want that, they will go to Wegmans. And if other supermarkets -- if it truly is what the customer wants, they have the option to go to Wegmans and have that and other supermarkets, if they start losing business, will do the same. I just don't think, you know, we should be regulating this and then hoping that there's customer behavior.
DEFIFEIn fact, several restaurant companies have been waiting for a couple of years to actually start to put the nutritional information up on their menus and menu boards and were just waiting for the final regulations to come because they wanted to do it once. They didn't want to do it in a way that then the FDA was gonna come back and say, oh, you've got to tweak that. Your font size is too big or it should be in a different color.
DEFIFEAnd so several companies voluntarily have gone ahead, because it did take a couple of years for the regulations to come out. I mean, as Margo said, this is 12 years for her in the making. This is, at least, a seven to eight year legislative to regulatory process at the federal level so it has taken some time to move through the process. I think many companies you're gonna see calories going up on the menu, even before the December 15 deadline.
REHMAll right. And Ellis, who couldn't hold on, but says he does not agree with the first caller. He says it's not going to be onerous and for anyone who wants to buy that bucket of popcorn, great. It's not going to stop them. But for the person who wants to watch calories and fat content, it's a godsend. Let's go now to Brandon in St. Petersburg, Florida. Hi there.
BRANDONHi, Diane. Thanks for taking my call. I'm a huge fan.
BRANDONI just wanted to comment. I'm a 22-year-old senior at the University of South Florida and this regulation helps my peers, specifically, because -- let me give you an example. Naturally, the freshman 15 happened for me and I would say I gained a little bit over it when I first entered college and this helps my age group specifically because in our fast-paced lifestyle between studying, jobs, what have you, we don't take the time and take the responsibility upon ourselves to check what we're eating, you know.
BRANDONWe'll just -- we get what's quick, what's efficient and what's available, readily available at restaurants and, you know, quite frankly, what tastes good. And I believe that, you know, this new regulation and us being able to visibly see what we're in-taking will not only, you know, negate the obvious weight gain, but will negate, you know, future health risks, such as, you know, our immense diabetes problem here, obesity.
BRANDONAnd I believe that starting these, you know, by having awareness at a young age, it will carry over into your adult life as far as knowing and being aware of what you are taking in-taking into your body. So I couldn't disagree more with the first caller and I believe it's just a wonderful step forward...
REHMAll right. I think the FDA would love to hear from Brandon. And what is your reaction, Margo?
WOOTANThe great thing about menu labeling is for those people who want to watch calories, they'll now have the information. For people who don't want them, they can ignore it. And this a place where, from a split second decision, you can save hundreds to even 1,000 calories. You know, get the roast beef sandwich instead of the tuna. There's 400 calories. Get a small soda instead of a large soda.
WOOTANA medium bucket of popcorn instead of a large. All of these small chances can add up to hundreds of calories saved without a lot of sacrifice.
REHMWhat about restaurants, Scott, or shops that change their menu every day? What's gonna happen to them?
DEFIFESure. Well, the FDA built some flexibility into the regulation for things that are weekly specials or seasonal specials. The law really applies to things that are on a printed menu for a period of time, not for the daily special, the weekly special, things of that nature. This is their standard menu items that appear in print on menus and menu board.
BLEICHOne of the reasons why this legislation has the potential to have far-reaching public health impact is the point that the commissioner made at the beginning, which is over consumption of calories is what's driving the obesity problem and this is really aiming to help people just make better choices when it comes to calories at the point of purchase, given that half of all food dollars, roughly, are spent on purchasing things outside the home.
BLEICHIf you ask the question, roughly how many extra calories daily explain the increase in obesity among kids, it's only about an additional 165 calories a day and among adults, only about 220 calories a day. So if you're looking at a menu board, to Margo's point, and you just make a decision to get a different sandwich and that cuts out several hundred calories, it can go a long way at the population level in bringing down what people are eating and as a result, prevent future obesity and potentially control obesity as it is now.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Here's an email from Peter in Arlington, Virginia. He says, "the requirements to post calorie information on menus will create too much clutter. There's also more nutritional information than just calories. Why not require comprehensive and standardized information online that can be clearly seen on a smartphone? Scott.
DEFIFEIn fact, that is also part of the regulation, that the other nutritional information that you would find on the back of your standard packaged good label is available upon request for all of the standard menu items. So while the calories will appear on the menu, the other nutritional information for those same menu items will be available upon request. We believe that many restaurants are going to be putting that online.
DEFIFEI think you're going to see a transition, over time, to many more digital menu boards, the kinds of information that you can change and put more information, use technology. Restaurants are really adapting to technology by the droves and I think that you're gonna see these two things come together.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Jim in Highland Township, Michigan. You're on the air.
JIMThanks for accepting my call.
JIMI just don't think another regulatory agency or regulatory rules are gonna help the obesity problem in this country. I think by just letting the market work, let it do its magic, it always works if we allow it to work. But when you start getting these people in with the idea that we got to do all these grandiose things and it just manifests the problem. The company now is gonna have the burden of conducting this analysis and it's very expensive to do these things. We're already...
REHMNow, you have -- Margo already said you do not believe it is going to be all that expensive.
WOOTANNo. For a whole chain restaurant, they just need to buy a package of software which you can get for a couple of hundred dollars and have one of your staff type your recipes into that software. It is not expensive. You know, the marketplace -- we believe in the marketplace, but it doesn't always work. And we were asking and consumers were asking for nutrition information, restaurants and supermarkets and other places and the marketplace wasn't responding.
WOOTANAnd so that's why we turned to legislation and regulation. The marketplace can be great, but it doesn't always work. You know, moms don't have time in between taking care of their kids, working, taking care of their home, to also fight with restaurants and supermarkets to demand the nutrition information they need in their spare time.
DEFIFEYou know, I do want to agree on the caution that many people, not in this conversation, but many people across the country are putting on one individual meal, right? One individual meal within the range of somebody's entire week or day's diet is not something to focus on, you know, kind of hyper-regulation. But we do believe that the consumers want the information and with the information, they can make the choices that they want to make.
REHMSara? Last word? Where's Sara. Ah, okay. I think that's it, folks. We've got new regulations coming in December of 2015. You'll see lots more calorie labeling. You'll see lots more information about the foods that you consume outside the home. Thank you all so much. Margo Wootan, Scott DeFife, Sara Bleich, Lyle Beckwith. Have a great Thanksgiving.
WOOTANThank you. You, too.
REHMThank you. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. We'll be off for the next couple of days. We'll bring you some good rebroadcasts. I wish you all a peaceful, happy day with your families. I'm...
Most Recent Shows
President-elect Donald Trump starts a victory tour with a stop in Cincinnati. Nancy Pelosi is re-elected House minority leader. And North Carolina prosecutors say the police officer who killed Keith Lamont Scott will not face charges.
During the campaign President-elect Donald Trump promised to bring jobs back to the U.S. by changing the rules with our global trading partners: What stronger protectionist policies could mean for American workers and the U.S. economy.
Despite blizzard conditions, thousands of Dakota Access Pipeline protestors vow to defy state evacuation orders. An update on the North Dakota pipeline protests and oil pipeline safety.