May 13, 2004
Eating Out, Eating SmartAs my staff will tell you, I have a weakness for Dairy Queen. When I am driving around Iowa, I often can not help stopping for lunch and ice cream. But, recently, I was shocked to learn that one of my Dairy Queen treats, a large Cookie-Dough Blizzard, contains 52 grams of fat and more than 1,300 calories -- more than half of my total daily recommended intake. That is valuable information. It will not stop me from going to Dairy Queen, but next time I will probably opt for a small or medium portion.
Americans who worry about their weight and care about their health – and that includes most of us -- appreciate the nutritional information clearly displayed on food packages in supermarkets. But when we eat in restaurants, it is a totally different story. We enter a zero-information zone where we must resort to guesses and estimates.
Until now. Last month, the Ruby Tuesday restaurant chain began including on its menus basic nutritional information on each of its standard items. Now, Ruby Tuesday customers -- before they place their orders -- will see precisely the calorie, carbohydrate, fat, and fiber content of their selections. Instead of guessing, customers will be able to make informed choices. What a concept!
Giving consumers nutrition information has never been more important. Obesity and diet-related chronic diseases are no longer just a threat to individuals. In recent years, they have become a public health crisis.
There are obvious, constructive steps that we can take to address this crisis. I have introduced the Menu Education and Labeling (MEAL) Act, which would require chain restaurants with 20 or more outlets to do what Ruby Tuesday has done: provide basic nutritional information on standard menu items. This common-sense idea will give consumers the facts they need to make smart choices and achieve a healthier lifestyle.
Bear in mind that restaurants play a huge – and growing -- role in Americans’ diet and health. American adults and children now consume a third of their calories at restaurants, at the very time when nutrition and health experts say that rising calorie consumption and growing portion sizes are a clear cause of obesity.
We also know that when children eat in restaurants, they consume twice as many calories as when they eat at home. Consumers say that they want nutrition information provided when they order food at restaurants. My legislation would accomplish this by setting food information standards for chain restaurants that are similar to standards long required at grocery stores.
Common-sense food labeling is good for Americans’ health. It is time to guarantee this benefit at chain restaurants all across America.