Calorie Counting: Good for Seafood?


Steven Hedlund

Published on
September 9, 2008

A bill awaiting California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's signature would require chain restaurants with a total of 15 or more outlets to list the calorie content of each menu item.

Similar laws are due to take effect in two California counties, San Francisco and Santa Clara, and Washington's King County, which encompasses Seattle, later this year. And this summer the Big Apple began enforcing its calorie-labeling law for chain restaurants, the nation's first, with fines of up to $2,000 for non-compliance.

New Yorkers aren't complaining - 86 percent of the 300 diners Technomic polled last week deem the city's calorie-labeling law "a positive move," though this shouldn't come as a surprise in city where nannyism reigns supreme (New York is known for its bans, from trans fat to foie gras to aluminum baseball bats). Robert Goldin, executive VP of Technomic, told me yesterday that consumers want the government to play a more active role in regulating nutrition, and he expects more municipalities to follow New York's lead.

In fact, more than 20 municipalities nationwide are contemplating calorie- or other nutrition-labeling laws for chain restaurants, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Will calorie-labeling laws benefit seafood? Possibly. The protein is low in calories - most seafood species contain only 75 to 150 calories per 3 1/2 ounces.

But the question that should be asked is: Are calorie-labeling laws really necessary?

Eating healthier is not as simple as counting calories, and providing diners with more information doesn't necessarily mean they'll make smarter choices. For example, diners who order a low-calorie menu item often reward themselves by eating a high-calorie item later, a phenomenon Brian Wansink, a Cornell University professor and director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, terms "health halo."

Additionally, menus are already overloaded with information, and redesigning them is burdensome and costly at a time when chain restaurants are struggling to maintain guest traffic due to the economic lull.

Calorie-labeling laws are more of a quick fix than a long-term solution to improving public health. But that won't prevent calorie-labeling laws from popping up as quickly as trans-fat bans did last year.

Best regards,
Steven Hedlund
Associate Editor
SeaFood Business

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