Reporting from Washington —
Many chain restaurants and vending machines would have to display the number of calories in their food for consumers under draft guidelines released Tuesday by the Food and Drug Administration.
The guidelines require that calorie information be posted in the same size type as the menu item or price, whichever is larger. Vending machines would have to display the information in a "clear and conspicuous" manner so consumers could review it before making a purchase, according to the guidelines, which were authorized by the healthcare legislation passed this year.
Michael Hanlon, senior scientist for Consumers Union, praised the labeling requirement as a useful tool in guiding food choices but warned that it would not be a magic bullet in curbing the nation's appetite. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese.
Americans consume about a third of their calories from food prepared outside the home and tend to guess wrong about the number of calories in such foods.
The calorie disclosure requirement applies only to restaurants and other food chains with 20 or more locations and vending machine operators with 20 or more machines.
Menus must include the statement that "Additional nutrition information is available on request" and restaurants must make available more detailed data about the source of calories, calories from fat and the amount of saturated fat, sodium, sugars and other key food components in each menu item.
Daily specials, custom orders and items appearing on a menu for less than 60 days would be exempt from calorie disclosure.
New York City already requires similar calorie information on menus.
The proposed guidelines are preliminary and could change as a result of information received during a 45-day public comment period. The FDA won't begin enforcing the labeling requirement until the rules are completed some time after the comment period.