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Jason Block
, MD, MPH

More than 40% of all food consumed in the United States is prepared, or ready-to-eatfood. Widespread policy change is underway, including calorie labeling and enhancements to the Nutrition Facts panel, to guide customers to healthier choices when dining in restaurants or buying prepared food. But convincing customers to make changes in fast-paced settings is difficult. Price and taste often quickly overtake health concerns. Why can’t we just change the default options to be healthier?

 
 
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by Kristina Lewis MD, MPH, SM


Beginning on December 1 in New York City, food items that are extremely high in sodium acquired a warning label. Specifically, any item that contains more than a full day’s worth of recommended sodium (>2300mg) will now have to be labeled with a somewhat innocuous image of a salt shaker, and the slightly less-subtle warning message: “High sodium intake can increase blood pressure and risk of heart disease and stroke”. 

 
 
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The FDA recently released two new regulations that provide instructions to restaurants, grocery stores, vending machines and other food establishments for how they will have to comply with the law compelling them to post calories on menus. The idea motivating this law and regulations is that if consumers are aware of the calories of their purchases, they may make lower calorie choices. Is this true? Does the posting of calories or other nutritional information affect consumer choice? And if so, does the nature of the posted information make a difference? 

 
 
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by Stephanie Linakis, MPH


In late 2010, Congress passed a law requiring restaurant chains with 20 or more locations to post calorie content on their menus and menu boards. The law was a provision in the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”), and was driven by the belief that individuals might consume excess calories when they are eating restaurant meals because of limited awareness of the calorie content. Since I manage a study that is investigating the impact of menu labeling at six chain fast-food restaurants in New England, I was particularly intrigued by a recent talk by Dr. Lorien Urban regarding restaurants exempt from the law.

 
 
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by Jason Block, MD, MPH


This post will also be posted on the Eperspective blog from the Institute of Food Technologists.

The long-awaited final regulations for calorie labeling were released on December 1, 2014. These regulations come 4+ years after the law requiring them passed, as part of the Affordable Care Act. The regulatory verdict from the US Food and Drug Administration is clear: Calories will be everywhere. Nearly all chain food establishments that sell “restaurant-type food” and have 20 or more sites nationally will have to post calories on their menus. Despite early signals that some food establishments might be exempt, the final regulations state that fast-food restaurants, full-service restaurants, cafeterias, grocery stores, movie theaters, bakeries, convenience stores, vending machine operators, and yes, bowling alleys must comply. Schools are pretty much the only entities that aren’t included. The regulations give establishments until December 2015 to post calories; vending machine operators have until December 2016.


 
 
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by Stephanie Linakis, MPH


Replacing sugar sweetened beverages with artificially sweetened, zero and reduced calorie substitutes would seem to be one foolproof strategy for weight loss, right? Well, maybe – the story could be more complicated. Our body’s myriad biological and psychological pathways challenge what would logically appear to be a simple choice. The body can easily recognize and process a natural, calorie free substance such as water. Drinks – and yogurt and other products – that are artificially sweetened (with aspartame, saccharin, or sucralose, for example), however, can confuse our systems and may lead to unintended consequences. 

 
 
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by Maricelle Ramirez


If you are hungry and running low on time, money, and/or palatable options, eating nutritious food may take the backseat, even if you do care about your food.

Over the past few summers, as part of a nutrition study, I went out to over 40 fast-food restaurants across New England and surveyed people who had just purchased food. It seemed that even participants who answered that calories were important in choosing their food also tended to respond that they either did not see calorie information or saw it but did not use it.


 
 
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by
Jason Block, MD

I’m a rabid New Orleans Saints fan. Raised in Louisiana, I started going to games as a young child, joining my grandfather, dad, brother and others. I have reveled in their highs (in the last few years) and despaired in their lows (many, many over their history). I even went to the Super Bowl in 2010 when the Saints won.  Needless to say, I have a Drew Brees jersey and consider him to be one of the greats. He is a future Hall of Famer, a remarkable community asset, and a true leader. So what does Drew Brees have to do with the obesity epidemic? In one word: endorsements.

 
 
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by Jason P. Block, MD, MPH

A colleague and I recently wrote a JAMA commentary that revisited the arguments in favor of menu labeling.  People eat large calorie meals when dining at restaurants, and they often don’t know how many calories they are consuming.  Calorie labeling provides immediately accessible calorie information at the moment when customers are making decisions.  Also, calorie labeling might prompt restaurants to reduce the calories in items, especially those with the most egregious calorie counts (check out Dave’s Hot and Juicy ¾ pounder at Wendy’s or the 12 inch Big Hot Pastrami at Subway, both coming in at over 1000 calories, even before the sides are added on).