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Calif. calorie labeling law to go into effect

December 27, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
A shrimp spinach salad at a chain restaurant can cost you nearly 1,000 calories, yet two large slices of hand-tossed cheese pizza at Domino's is just a bit over 500. It's hard to tell just by looking, which is why California has launched a new label law.

"We have it currently on tray liners, we have it on most of the product packaging, we have our website, we have our 800 number and we have the nutritional brochures that they can ask for," said Heather New, a McDonald's owner-operator.

New is talking about where you have been able to find nutrition information for McDonald's.

Since July of last year, chains without sit-down service had to provide nutrition facts in a few key places, but as of the New Year on Saturday, California labeling law requires all chains that have at least 20 California locations to post the calorie counts on menus and indoor boards.

These rules are separate from what the Food and Drug Administration is proposing, through similar regulations, for all states in March.

"The idea is well-intentioned. I'm not so sure about the execution," said Bonnie Modugno, a McDonald's dietician.

Modugno said the science community feels that posting numbers is going to change behavior.

"I've never found that to be the case. Knowledge is not behavior," Modugno.

Although anecdotally, her clients who frequent sit-down restaurants reconsider when entrées are more than 1000 calories.

Panera has found an increase in orders on their half sandwich, half soup or salad combos since the posting.

Even the Los Angeles Unified School District found that teenagers make lower calorie choices when nutrition facts are on the menu.

Yet not everyone has an appetite for the information.

"Some studies say people do make better choices, some studies say parents make better choices for their kids," said Krista Faron of monitoring company Mintel.

Dietitian Ashley Koff said that calories are not the only factor.

"The issue is that calories alone do not make the decision. We have to look at the quality of the ingredients. We also have to look at nutrient balance," said Koff.


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