Gone are the days when you could eat an entire Chipotle burrito without the dread of knowing you’d just consumed over 1,000 calories.
You can now walk into any large chain restaurant and see just how many calories are in the foods you’re ordering.
These food establishments must now post the calories on overhead display boards, printed menus, and electronic kiosks.
America’s Obesity Crisis
Not to mention, more and more people are eating their meals away from home—about one-third of their caloric intake—and it’s a lot harder to know exactly what you’re putting into your body when you’re not doing the cooking yourself.
In addition to making a dent in obesity rates, the FDA hopes the mandate will help Americans reduce their risk of developing chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.
By knowing how many calories are in the things that they eat and drink while dining out, consumers can, hopefully, make smarter decisions about their diets and well-being.
Will It Work?
The big question, though, is whether or not these calorie counts will actually work.
So far, there hasn’t been much evidence regarding how calorie counts affect people’s purchasing decisions and, consequently, their health.
One review conducted by the Cochrane Collaborative did suggest that calorie counts can, in fact, reduce calories that people consume by approximately 50 calories a meal. While this doesn’t seem like much, that amount does add up and can ultimately drive population-wide changes.
“Consuming just 64 fewer calories per day, on average, would help the nation meet the government’s goal of reducing youth obesity by 2020,” he added.
That’s why the FDA is making sure the calorie counts are being put into context by ensuring that all menus, menu boards, and kiosks include a statement letting consumers know that daily caloric intake should come to about 2,000 calories.
Experts have found that people who are educated and informed about calorie counts find them to be extremely helpful in making lower-calorie choices.
The Ruling in Action
The mandate, which was originally approved in 2010 under the Affordable Care Act, was initially met with backlash from small- to medium-sized food providers who claimed it was too expensive and tedious to calculate calories in their rotating menu items.
To minimize the burden, the FDA provided restaurants and retail establishments with flexible options regarding how they can comply with the menu labeling requirements in a way that works for both them and their customers.
Expect restaurants and prepared food sellers to up the competition in their quest to provide consumers with more healthful options.
A More Healthful Future
This new regulation is part of a broader nutrition-focused initiative—deemed the Nutrition Innovation Strategy—the FDA announced earlier this year to help protect public health and empower Americans to live healthier lives.
“The Nutrition Innovation Strategy will modernize claims like ‘healthy’ on food packages, modernize how we establish standards of identity for foods, make ingredient information on labels easier to decipher, help streamline the process for establishing qualified health claims on food labels, and encourage companies to reduce sodium in their products,” the FDA said in a statement.
Consumers want to make more informed choices about what and how much they eat. Now they just need the tools and resources to do so.
Julia Ries is a contributor to Healthline, which originally published this article.