Put calorie counts on menu boards


POSTED: Saturday, February 28, 2009

LISTING of calories beside menu items at chain restaurants would be required under a bill before the Legislature and its enactment would be a needed tool to fight obesity and good marketing gauge for the restaurants. The Hawaii Restaurant Association supports the bill's purpose, and a court decision provides further assurance of the requirement's legality.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals last week rejected the New York State Restaurant Association's challenge of a similar requirement of most major fast-food and chain restaurants in New York City. The restaurants maintained that the city rule was preempted by federal food regulations.

New York City's rule and the Hawaii proposal differ in one important respect: The city's rule requires calorie information to be put on all menus or drive-through menu boards. A similar requirement went into effect on Jan. 1 in King County (Seattle), Wash. The Hawaii bill would require it on menus, but menu boards would need only state that the information is available upon request. The bill instead should follow the examples of New York and Seattle.

Michelle Forman of the Center for Science in the Public Interest pointed out to the Legislature that nearly two-thirds of fast-food revenues come from drive-throughs and are on the rise. Other testimony urged that other nutrition information about menu items not clutter the menus and cause “;consumers confusion.”;

The state Health Department favored the bill's purpose but stated its opposition to it because of the funding required to enforce the program. That is understandable given the state's budget woes, but enactment should allow enforcement to begin when it becomes affordable.