Fast Food Menu Calorie Counter Should Be National Law.

Companies do not like regulations. But perhaps no recent regulation has met with as much resistance from industry as that of New York City’s requirement that restaurants and eateries post calorie count on the menus.

Bills have been introduced in the HOuse and Senate to make a similar measure a national requirement. The fast-fooders and their lobbies oppose it, whining that it will over-crowd their menus. Massachusetts has passed it as well for a state-wide reg. Seattle and Portland have passed such regs, and an effort to do it Chicago is underway.

This, of course, is not a brand new reg. It went into effect last year. But I want to point out that this is one fantastic regulation. In fact, it defines what any regulation should be about: Is it fair? And does it serve an undeniable public good?

Yes on both counts. No argument required.

In short, eateries—mostly fast food and family chain restaurants are effected—must post the calorie count on the menu or menu board in the same font size as the price.

I was reminded of how great the reg is recently as I was passing through LaGuardia airport in NYC, listed as the no. 5 fattest city in the U.S. by Men’s Fitness. Feeling peckish after being strip searched at security in front of a 100 people, I sauntered over to the Burger King stand, thinking I would grab a breakfast sandwich.

Full disclosure: I am trying hard to lose more weight and I have upped my cycling to a goal of 75 miles to 100 miles a week.

I hadn’t actually looked at a BK menu in a long time. The Burger King Croissan’wich w/ Sausage, Egg & Cheese was 500 calories. Add hashbrowns and you are up to 740. Add OJ and you are up above 800 cals for a grab and go breakfast. I could clearly see the calorie counts because it is required to be in the same font-size as the prices. Looking in horror, I passed.

I went to Starbuck’s and got coffee and a banana.

What is great about this regulation is that all it required BK to do is give me the information, so I could make the best choice. That is a perfect regulation.

A search on my part shows that TGI Fridays had a hard time putting a meal on the menu that is under 1,000 cals, but it has added a lot of new items in the last year that are.

The Menu Education and Labeling Act, known as MEAL, would require restaurant chains with 20 or more stores to display calorie counts on their menu boards. The bill also would require printed menus at such chains to include calorie counts as well as information about trans fats, carbohydrates and sodium.

It seems to me that a national reg like this would do wonders to lower our healthcare costs. NYC estimates that it may save 30,000 cases of Diabetes. That’s from a statistic model, so who knows?

But the point is that requiring this nationally would compel restaurants to re-invent their menus, because they wouldn’t want everything on the menu to be over 1,000 calories. They can still have the fat stuff. After all, some people can eat 1,500 calorie lunches and do just fine. But people will tend to make better choices when presented with the info at point of sale.

We all have heard the idea of putting a tax on fast food and soda pop and the rest to help pay for public healthcare remedies. Before we do that, though, how about making NYC’s reg national and see how the marketplace works it out. That would seem to me to be a very conservative remedy before we consider taxes. Just give us the info at point-of sale, and let customers decide what’s best for them.

Beats more taxes.

The restaurant industry, including McDonald’s, has been backing the proposed Labeling Education and Nutrition Act, called LEAN. That bill would require restaurants to have nutrition and calorie information “in plain sight” prior to the point of sale. But it wouldn’t force restaurants to add information to menus and menu boards where everyone knows it is most effective in deterring purchases of high fat food.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.