For as much as President Trump and the Republicans have disparaged Obamacare, a fair amount of the law remains in place. And one detail, that until now has been pending, is finally going into effect. Trump will allow Obamacare's calorie menu rule to be enforced, starting Monday.
Many big chains have already complied with the requirement, but smaller restaurants benefited from the FDA's many delays — the 2018 rollout of this bit of the 2010 Affordable Care Act is far behind the typical schedule. Any chain with 20 or more locations must comply — and that includes places like grocery stores and movie theaters that sell prepared food.
Trump's commissioner of Food and Drugs, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, told The Washington Times that the move is pro-market. "There is a place for providing a basic level of information and having a uniform playing field for the disclosure of that information," he told the paper. "You’re comparing apples to apples — literally. I think that’s a pro-market notion."
And if a restaurant doesn't choose to follow the regulation, Gottlieb makes it sound the penalty will be minimal. "Nobody is going to be hammered for not having everything in place," he added.
Gottlieb wrote a long explanation detailing why he is enforcing this rule on the FDA's blog. The main reason seems to be the nation's health. "Studies show that menu labeling can make an important difference in every day food choices that add up over time," Gottlieb wrote. With the knowledge readily available, consumers eat 30 to 50 calories less, he added. Weight and BMI are not the best way to indicate whether or not a person is healthy, but knowing exactly what you're putting into your body is a good step.
The other pending update to national calorie labeling has been delayed by Gottlieb. It will apply to packaged foods at grocery stores. The rule was due to take effect on July 26, 2018, but has been delayed to Jan. 1, 2020 for businesses with $10 million in annual food sales.
The changes will make fonts larger and easier to read and better inform consumers about what kind of sugars a product has. It will differentiate between added sugars and naturally occurring ones.
The move to delay was to help food manufacturers. "This extension on the Nutrition Facts label regulation will help ensure that we provide the food industry with guidance to help them modernize their Nutrition Facts labels and that industry has sufficient time to complete and print updated Nutrition Facts labels," Gottlieb told WholeFoods Magazine.
The restaurant calorie menus, meanwhile, will help consumers who eat out make healthy decisions. Margo Wootan, vice president for nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told CNN that the change will make a difference, even if it's not the only possible solution.
Some of the biggest chains have had calories up on their menus for years, but other restaurants will only be adding the nutrition information as of Monday. Some 230,000 restaurants across the country will be affected, the National Restaurant Association estimates.
The next time you go out for dinner, see if your favorites dishes' calorie counts match your expectations.