By Ashley Surdin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
LOS ANGELES, Sept. 30 -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill Tuesday requiring chain restaurants to put calorie counts on their menus and indoor menu boards, making California the first state to enact such a law in the battle against America's expanding waistline.
The law requires chains with 20 or more locations -- more than 17,000 restaurants statewide -- to post the information by 2011. Starting in July, restaurants and drive-throughs will have to offer menus that provide information on the calories, saturated fat, carbohydrates and sodium in each item.
Restaurants that violate the rules could be fined $50 to $500 by county health department officials.
Schwarzenegger said the legislation was part of the state's push to set a national model for nutrition policy and to fight obesity, which costs the state $28.6 billion in health-care costs, lost productivity and workers' compensation.
"When I was in the Austrian army, I drove a tank that weighed 50 tons. Now multiply that by 3,500 -- that's as many pounds as California has gained" in the past decade, Schwarzenegger said at a news conference outside a Chili's restaurant. "This legislation will help Californians make more informed, healthier choices by making calorie information easily accessible at thousands of restaurants throughout the state."
Much of the focus on fostering a healthier California has been directed at schools, where junk food and soda have been removed or are being phased out and replaced by fruits and vegetables.
Legislation similar to the California law has been approved in cities across the country, including New York, Seattle and San Francisco. Proposals are pending in several others, including Chicago, Washington and Philadelphia.
All are part of a movement to educate consumers and help them make healthier choices, said Margo G. Wootan, nutrition policy director at the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has advocated for menu labeling nationwide. The effort has gathered steam in the past two years, she said.
"States and cities are interested in menu labeling because of the growing role that chain food restaurants play in Americans' diet," she said. "Most Americans get a third of their calories from eating out. And, unfortunately, restaurant foods play a very problematic role in our diets."
New York City's menu-labeling regulations, which apply to chains with 15 or more locations nationwide, took effect March 31 after a court battle with the New York State Restaurant Association. Wootan said consumers favor the regulations; she cited a 2008 poll by Technomic, a restaurant industry consulting firm, that found that 86 percent of New Yorkers consider the law a positive move.
New York restaurants have responded to the law by offering healthier, low-fat ingredients and smaller portions, Wootan said.
Nationwide, about 78 percent of Americans say fast-food and other chain restaurants should list nutritional information, according to a 2008 poll by the Caravan Opinion Research Corp., a market research firm.
California's bill was authored by Sens. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) and Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) and supported by the California Center for Public Health Advocacy and the American Cancer Society. The California Restaurant Association, an early critic of the bill, said it supported the final legislation.