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Study: Menu labeling is changing dining habits

CHICAGO As menu labeling initiatives pick up steam across the country, a new survey indicates that New York City's calorie disclosure law is changing what people there order.

According to a study released last week by Technomic Inc., 82 percent of New York City residents surveyed Jan. 30 to Feb. 3 say the posted calorie information is affecting what they order, and 60 percent say it is affecting what restaurants they visit. Ninety percent of the respondents said the calorie counts were higher than they expected them to be.

"They really find it helps them make better choices," said Kathy Gaynor, a study director and senior manager at Chicago-based Technomic.

Gaynor also noted that consumers are likely to become accustomed to having nutrition information readily available and will look to "all levels of government" to push for more regulation for restaurant menus.

"Consumers see the government as having the leverage to force this issue into the forefront," she said.

New York City's law, which requires local branches of chain restaurants with at least 15 units to post calorie counts on their menus and menu boards, went into effect last summer. Since then, a number of local governments have passed menu-labeling rules, including cities like Philadelphia and such counties as King County in Washington and Westchester County in New York.

Last fall California became the first state to pass a menu-labeling bill. Other states, including Indiana, New York and Massachusetts, have moved in that direction in recent weeks, and West Virginia lawmakers could introduce a nutrition disclosure bill there as soon as this week, a state senator said.

The National Restaurant Association is supporting a federal bill that would provide uniform standards for nutrition disclosure, said Beth Johnson, the NRA's executive vice president of public affairs. Local menu-labeling bills across the country have varied in how much information must be disclosed, how it must be displayed and which restaurants must comply.

"From a business perspective, if you know what you have to provide you can do that much more clearly if the rules are the same everywhere," Johnson said. "From the consumer standpoint, it's much easier to use that information if it's the same everywhere."

The bill the NRA is supporting, called the Labeling Education and Nutrition, or LEAN, Act, would require restaurant chains with 20 or more stores nationwide to post calorie counts and offer additional nutrition data at the point of sale.

Contact Molly Gise at [email protected].

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