Menu law signed in Philadelphia-Philadelphia News

TEMPLE UNIVERSITY; December 18, 2008

It requires any chain restaurant with 15 or more eateries nationwide to give diners calorie counts, and other nutritional information.

Action News was at Temple University's Center for Obesity Research and Education for a ceremonial signing by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, the sponsor of the legislation.

The law requires calories, fat content, sodium, and carbohydrates, be listed at the order point. It goes beyond measures in California and New York that require calories only.

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Donald Schwarz says, "This is a significant step toward Philadelphia making it clear we want to attack the obesity epidemic, and we want to be part of the leadership nationally."

Small businesses, neighborhood restaurants, and so-called "mom & pop shops" are not included in the bill. It applies to large chain restaurants only. So it applies to fast-food eateries like McDonalds, Starbucks, Panera Bread, but also fine-dining spots, such as Ruth's Chris Steak House, McCormick and Schmick's, and Ted's Montana Grill.

However, it does not apply to Philadelphia's biggest restaurant name - Stephen Starr. Starr has 18 restaurants nationwide, however, they are under different names. The Philadelphia legislation defines chain restaurants as those operating under the same name.

Gary Foster, Ph.D., director of the Temple center, believes the menu information will have an impact on eating habits. He told Action News, "The elegance of this bill is in the simplicity, give people information at the point that they order."

"If you have calorie information when you are choosing - a 3 ounce muffin or a 6 ounce muffin, you will make a different choice," he said.

Dr. Kenneth Smith, of the Philadelphia Dept. of Public Health, said it's too early to know if New York's law has decreased waistlines, but it has made New Yorkers more aware of what they eat. One survey found that 86% were aware of the new law, and 84% were surprised at calorie counts."

Dr. Smith predicts that consumers will choose healthier food, ultimately driving chain restaurants to put more healthy offerings on the menu.

Ray Wallen of Philadelphia wishes he had that info during this past year. He's lost nearly 80 pounds by counting calories. But traveling for work, and eating out made it difficult.

"It's a lot nicer to see it on the menu than to estimate, and it's not easy to estimate, even at better restaurants."

Patrick Conway, president of the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association, called the new law "an onerous mandate," that "doesn't offer as much flexibility" as he wished.

Conway says restaurants should be able to use tray inserts, table displays, and other ways to provide the information.

Councilwoman Brown told Action News restaurants can appeal to the Health Department for approval to display the info through another means.

Councilwoman Brown says the law does allow restaurant owners to appeal to the Dept. of Public Health, to be allowed to display the nutritional information in different ways.

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