Calorie counts everywhere!

My newest Examiner post covers the FDA’s draft rules for calorie labeling, which may extend not just to restaurants, but also to convenience stores, movie theaters, and supermarket salad bars — all without much evidence that they’ll do any good.

On a related note, last summer I wrote about how technological change will make these laws superfluous:

Improvements in information technology are another reason to doubt the merits of forcing restaurants to post calories directly on menus. Websites like Calorie Lab already provide databases of the nutritional information from more than 500 restaurants. As far as I know they don’t have a phone app yet, but they could easily make one (one competitor already has). As smart phones proliferate it will be easier than ever for consumers to access calorie counts in addition to much more thorough nutritional information about the foods they eat. Yet these archaic laws will still be on the books forcing unneeded clutter on printed menus.

Even better than smart phones, this week Eater takes a look at how iPads are replacing printed menus in a few restaurants. The devices are durable, interactive, can hold a lot more information than a printed menu, and can work with a restaurant’s point of sale system. If desired, an electronic menu could offer extensive nutritional information at the push of a button. They’re cost-prohibitive right now for most restaurants, but in the future we can expect the price to go down and electronic menus to become more common.

It will be interesting to see how the law is adapted for electronic menus. Will calorie counts have to be displayed prominently like they are now, or will it be enough to have them easily available on the device for interested consumers? If the former, that will be another sign this law is intended more to nag people than to provide them with desired information.

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