The King County Board of Health made history recently, and it is a change you’ll soon see when dining out. We passed legislation, after extensive negotiation with the Washington Restaurant Association, which requires chain restaurants to provide consumers with nutrition information.
More than half of the adults in King County – 719,000 people – are overweight or obese, along with 25 percent of youth in middle and high school and 14 percent of preschool children. As a result of the increase in obesity, the number of people with diabetes in King County has doubled in the past 10 years.
On average, Americans now eat four meals a week at restaurants (nearly double the number from 20 years ago), consume up to 42 percent of their daily calories and spend 46 percent of their food budget away from home.
Research shows that eating in restaurants is linked with increased obesity because consumers eat more when served larger portions. They also routinely underestimate the nutrition content of menu items. When eating out, it is not uncommon for a single menu item to contain half or even 100 percent of an entire day’s worth of calories.
All chain restaurants with more than 15 locations nationwide must post calorie, fat, carbohydrate and sodium information either on their menu, as an appendix, or in an insert, supplemental menu or electronic device at the table.
Six national polls found that Americans overwhelmingly support requiring restaurants to list nutrition information. This is because three-quarters of Americans report using food labels on packaged foods purchased at the grocery store, and about half of them report that the labels caused them to change their food purchasing habits.
In order for restaurant nutrition labeling to have a similar result, the King County Board of Health maintained the following: first, information must be available to all restaurant goers without having to ask for it; and second, information be available prior to ordering, so restaurant goers can make informed choices.
Obesity is an immense and complicated issue nationwide. I do not expect that the Board of Health’s legislation will be the sole solution to the problem. But it is one tool to help consumers make better informed choices about what they eat in restaurants.