Bill would put calorie counts on menus


POSTED: Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A bill pending in the state Legislature to require retail food chains to provide more nutritional information on menus has received new impetus with national research showing increased risk of stroke associated with fast-food restaurants.

The risk of stroke increased 1 percent for each fast-food restaurant in a neighborhood, according to a study presented Thursday at the American Stroke Association's International Conference.

Researchers found residents of neighborhoods with the highest number of fast-food restaurants had a 13 percent higher relative risk of suffering ischemic strokes than those living in areas with the lowest numbers of restaurants.

The Hawaii legislation (House Bill 1526 HD1) is aimed at encouraging healthy food choices to combat increasing obesity and an increased risk of high blood pressure and hypertension, which can lead to cardiovascular disease.

An Alliance Healthcare initiative to combat childhood obesity also was announced Thursday by the American Heart Association, the William J. Clinton Foundation and other medical associations, insurers and corporations.

Former President Bill Clinton, a co-leader of the alliance, said in a news release, “;If we teach people at an early age that eating healthy and moving more is important, an entire generation of Americans will live healthier and longer lives.”;

The bill being considered by Hawaii lawmakers would require a franchise retail food establishment with 10 or more restaurants to maintain nutritional information on each standard menu item and have it available for the public upon request.

The AHA Pacific/Mountain Affiliate and American Cancer Society Hawaii Pacific support the concept but say the bill doesn't go far enough. “;It codifies the status quo, which is leading to obesity right now, especially in our kids,”; said AHA spokesman Don Weisman.

The health organizations want the information to include calories per standard serving item on a menu and to show them on drive-through menu boards.

The state Health Department opposes the measure because of funding required to implement a new program.

The Hawaii Restaurant Association testified in support of the intent of the bill but asked for some changes.

Weisman said the National Restaurant Association argues that it will hurt business, but that hasn't happened in New York and other cities that now require listing of such information on drive-through menu boards.

After the first year of the program in New York, he said, customers at fast-food restaurants were starting to choose lower-calorie items more often and restaurants were adjusting menus to meet customers' demands. “;It's exactly what you hope will happen.

“;We want parents to help make educated choices for kids and start to teach kids these items are better for you.”;

Providing the information only on pamphlets inside the restaurant “;defeats the purpose,”; Weisman added, citing a study showing “;only 4 percent of the time did customers go in and get the information.”;

He said it hasn't hurt business for restaurants providing calorie information on menus and menu boards, but it may result in a shift of items sold and provide opportunities for healthier new products demanded by the public.

Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC are providing calorie information voluntarily on menu boards on the mainland, he said.

Leah Allen, marketing director for Taco Aloha in Hawaii, including Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, said there is a “;general movement”; toward posting nutritional information on drive-through menu boards.

It's “;a big initiative”; that isn't being done here yet by those restaurants but all the nutritional information for their menus is on the Taco Bell Web site, she said.