Legislation will not help unless it puts calorie info in drive-through


POSTED: Tuesday, March 24, 2009

After reading your March 13 article “;Calorie-counting likely to get easier for local Hawaii diners,”; I read through the proposed legislation to which the article refers.

Far from making it easier for local diners to calorie-count, House Bill 1526 would do just the opposite by keeping the status quo. The bill would not require calories for menu items to be listed on drive-through menu boards. Based on data from New York City, which was the first major metropolis to pass effective menu labeling requirements more than a year ago, 65 percent of all fast-food purchases are made at drive-through windows. And, according to a survey of restaurateurs, that percentage is expected to climb.

By supporting only legislation not requiring that calories be listed on drive-through menu boards and supporting only the distribution of pamphlets with calorie information inside the restaurants, the Hawaii Restaurant Association is attempting to make it appear that it is concerned about its customers' health while in reality it is proposing to hide calorie information from them at the major point of purchase. Further data from New York City shows that customers went into restaurants only 4 percent of the time to ask for pamphlets containing calorie information, usually after already making their food purchases.

To be effective, calorie information must be listed on menus and menu boards at all points of purchase. Since most of the major restaurant chains already have to list this information on their drive-through menu boards in cities like New York, Philadelphia, Seattle and Portland, Ore., the boards are available from their companies, so the cost to purchase them should be no more than the cost of the boards they currently would order (restaurants frequently rotate their drive-through menu boards).

The New York experience has shown that customers will make healthier food selections when educated about what they are purchasing. And restaurants in New York are capitalizing on the customer demand by offering more variety of lower-calorie food choices. The law there is working exactly as we would hope it would.

Good menu-labeling legislation could help begin to control the rising obesity epidemic we face in Hawaii, especially among our keiki. Unfortunately, HB 1526 falls far short of reaching that goal. Legislators should scrap this ill-conceived attempt and work with health organizations to develop a law that would work.


Stephen Bradley, M.D., is a board-certified bariatric medicine specialist in Honolulu.