SOURCES: David Katz, M.D., M.P.H., director Yale University Prevention Research Center, New Haven, Conn.; Nov. 24, 2104, news conference with: Margaret Hamburg, M.D., commissioner, U.S. Food and Drug Administration
TUESDAY, Nov. 25, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- New rules announced Tuesday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will have many restaurant chains posting calorie counts on their menus, and the rules even apply to movie theater popcorn and ice cream parlor fare.
"Americans get about a third of their calories away from home, often consuming less nutritious food and underestimating the calories they eat," FDA commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg said during a Monday afternoon news conference.
Although listing calorie counts on menus won't solve the obesity epidemic, it should help consumers make healthy food choices, Hamburg added.
Any restaurant that's part of a chain of 20 or more locations doing business under the same name, and where outlets offer similar menus, will have to have calorie counts on menu items, according to the FDA.
These businesses will have to clearly post calorie information for standard items on menus and menu boards, right next to the name or price of the item.
Some items are exempt from the rule. Those include seasonal fare, daily specials and condiments.
The rules are required as part of the Affordable Care Act, and they also apply to vending machine companies that own 20 or more machines.
Hamburg said the rule "doesn't apply to independent restaurants, bars or grocery stores. It also doesn't apply to food trucks, ice cream trucks, food served on airplanes or other transportation vehicles."
Since these rules were first proposed in 2011, the FDA has received more than 1,100 comments that prompted the agency to focus on restaurant foods. The agency made other changes, such as allowing pizza to be labeled by the slice rather than as a whole pie.
The rules also include certain alcohol drinks listed on menus and food served in places of entertainment, such as movie theaters and amusement parks.
Calories will have to be listed for:
Restaurants and similar retail food stores will have one year to comply with the rule, and vending machine companies will have two years to make the changes, Hamburg said.
To help the public put calorie counts into the context of a person's daily caloric need, restaurants and vending machines will also have to display a sign saying: "2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary," she added.
Other nutritional information things such as total fat, calories from fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, fiber, sugars and protein does not have to be included on menus. However, this information has to be supplied in written form to customers if they request it, Hamburg said.
Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, called the new rules, "a welcome move by the FDA. In an age of obesity in adults and children, total daily calorie intake is of clear public health relevance."
However, Katz stressed that some high-calorie foods, such as nuts, are also rich in nutrients.
That means that "a focus on calories can result in an inattention to the quality of food choices," he said. "The best way to control calorie intake without constant hunger is to improve the overall quality of food choices. Ideally, more information should also be available about nutritional quality as well."
Visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture for more on healthy eating.