Menu Mandate: King County Wants You to Know What You're Eating
Policy makers in King County, Washington, are hungry for restaurant regulation.
The county's board of health has voted to require chain restaurants-- those with 10 or more locations nationwide--to post on their menus nutritional information, including calories, carbohydrates, sodium and fat. Restaurants with menu boards, which are common at fast-food chains, must list calorie information on the menu board itself, with additional information visible at the point of purchase.
Julia Patterson, chair of the King County Board of Health, says she hopes the labels will let customers know what they're eating, while also motivating restaurants to offer healthier options. "The government is not telling people what to eat," she says, "but we believe that consumers deserve to have information."
King County is taking this step for the same reason many jurisdictions are restricting trans fat: concerns that poor dietary choices are increasing obesity, diabetes, heart disease and, of course, government health costs. This summer, King County also approved a ban on trans fat in restaurants.
Restaurateurs complain that the regulation will place a heavy burden on them. "They did the most expensive thing they could do for business," says Anthony Anton, president and chief executive officer of the Washington Restaurant Association, "that will have the least impact."
Part of the debate between the board of health and the restaurants is over the process to determine the nutritional content of the food. The board thinks relatively inexpensive computer programs will do the trick, while the restaurants say they will be able to meet the requirement only through costly lab testing or consultations with outside experts.