Public health officials know that Angelenos like to go out to restaurants a lot. They also know that means eating a lot — sometimes too much.
So they came up with an idea: Convince restaurants to make changes so customers can dine out and make wise choices at the same time.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health launched a partnership Thursday with restaurants throughout the region to promote healthier options for customers. To be part of the Choose Health LA Restaurants program, places must offer smaller portion sizes and healthier children's meals with less fried food and more fruits and vegetables.
In return, the department will promote the restaurants and post large decals in their windows. The county will also list the participants on an interactive map at ChooseHealthLA.com. The county is also beginning an advertising campaign promoting the restaurant partnership.
The program is the latest effort to attack the obesity epidemic in Los Angeles County, where about 23% of residents are obese. The county has also been encouraging residents to eat less and to give up soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages. The media campaign includes posters around the county that read, "Choose Less, Weigh Less" and "You Wouldn't Eat 22 Packs of Sugar, So Why Are You Drinking Them?"
A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed a drop in the percentage of Los Angeles County children who drank sugar-sweetened beverages between 2007 and 2011. County officials hope for similar results on portion sizes.
"It's all part of a coordinated campaign to change norms," said Jonathan Fielding, director of the Department of Public Health.
Subway, which has more than 600 locations in the county, is the largest participant in the restaurant partnership thus far. Other restaurants include Poquito Mas, Roman's Pizza, Lido di Manhattan Ristorante and Deano's Gourmet Pizza. The county expects to sign on many more in coming months and will work closely with the restaurants on the best way to make changes.
The average family goes out to eat four times a week, and when they do, they eat more calories than they do at home, according to the department. If restaurants can offer healthy alternatives, Fielding said, that will help shrink waistlines.
"Small changes in what we eat every day, at every meal can make a huge difference in terms of not only our weight but our overall health," he said.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said he believes that when people have a choice, they will eat the meal with fewer calories. That can improve the health of the county's residents — and reduce government costs. About $6 billion is spent in Los Angeles County annually on obesity and obesity-related diseases, he said.