EDISON – Senator Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex, announced during her keynote address at yesterday’s Metuchen-Edison, Woodbridge Childhood Obesity Summit that she would introduce legislation today requiring all chain restaurants in New Jersey to display basic nutrition information on their menus. Dr. Marlene Schwartz, also a speaker at the Summit and the Director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy at Yale University, supported Buono’s bill as an effective strategy to respond to the growing obesity epidemic, especially among our children.
“We know that Americans are eating out more and more. In 1970 Americans spent just 26% of their food budget on eating away from home,” said Senator Buono. “Currently, we spend almost half of our food dollars dining out. This bill will give families an effective tool to make informed choices and hopefully reduce the incidence of obesity and its related diseases.”
The legislation is based upon the results of two studies published in the American Journal of Public Health that found when people go out to eat they significantly underestimate the calories and fat content of the foods they order, particularly the unhealthy items. One study demonstrated that actual fat and saturated fat levels were twice consumers’ estimates, and calories approached two times more than consumers expected. The second, related study concluded when people were given the nutritional information they needed to make informed decisions that this affected the food choices they made.
Under the bill, a restaurant must clearly list next to each to each food or beverage item on a printed menu the total number of calories, grams of saturated and trans fat, grams of carbohydrates and milligrams of sodium, in the menu item. Any restaurant that uses a menu board would only need to list only caloric information on the menu but would be required to provide the rest of the information upon request. The provisions of this bill would only apply to restaurants that are part of a chain with 20 or more locations in New Jersey and would not apply to daily specials, temporary menus or self-service items.
“Over the past twenty years the obesity epidemic has evolved into a public health crisis, with two thirds of adults either overweight or obese, and the obesity rate nearly tripling for children ages 2-5 years and 12-19 years; and quadrupling for those between the ages of 6-11 years,” added Buono. “Increased incidence of obesity goes hand in hand with increased prevalence of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, certain types of cancer and other physical indignities which shorten or undermine our quality of life. With one in five children predicted to be obese by 2010 coupled with the statistic that over 70% of overweight adolescents become overweight adults, it’s clear we must enact public policy which empowers individuals to make informed choices when it comes to eating habits.”
While nutritional labeling is currently required on processed and packaged foods, restaurants and similar establishments where food and drink are prepared and sold are required to provide nutritional information only when a health claim is made for a food or beverage item listed on a menu. Studies by the National Institutes of Health have shown that almost half of all Americans report that the nutritional information on food labels has caused them to change their minds about purchasing a particular food product, and it has been shown that a large number of Americans would like to be provided with nutritional information for items listed on a restaurant’s menu.
“This is a public health crisis whose ultimate solution will come through community action and by providing the tools to enhance our ability to live healthier lifestyles,” added Senator Buono.
A proprietor of a retail food establishment violating the provisions of the bill shall be liable for a civil penalty of not less than $50 or more than $100 for the first offense, and not less than $250 or more than $500 for the second or any subsequent offense.