Intended for healthcare professionals


US food agency defines new rules for listing calories on menus

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 26 November 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g7264
  1. Michael McCarthy
  1. 1Seattle

Chain restaurants, retail food outlets, and vending machines in the United States will be required to list the calorie content of the foods they sell, under new regulations released on 25 November by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Under the new rules1 2 establishments will also be required, at their consumers’ request, to provide written information about the total calories, total fat, calories from fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, fiber, sugars, and protein contained in the items listed on their menus and menu boards.

In an official blog Margaret Hamburg, FDA director, said that when people eat out they have been shown to consume less nutritious food and to underestimate the calories they eat. “People can clearly benefit by knowing more, and the new FDA rules will help to do just that,” Hamburg said.

The rules “are not requirements about what people should eat or what restaurants should serve,” Hamburg added, “but rather they will place more information in the customer’s hands so that they can make more informed choices for themselves and their families.” Nearly 70% of US adults over 20 are either overweight or obese.

The rules cover sit-down and fast food restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops and grocery stores, restaurant-type foods sold at grocery and convenience stores, takeaway and delivery foods such as pizza, and foods sold at places of entertainment such as movie theaters. In addition to listing the calories the menus will also include the statement: “2000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary.” The rules are due to go into effect in one year.

Advocates of menu labeling applauded the new regulations. Margo G Wootan, nutrition policy director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said, “Calories on restaurant menus will help Americans—who are getting about a third of their calories from away-from-home foods—choose for themselves how many calories they really want when eating out. It’s also going to continue to be an incentive for restaurant chains to innovate and offer consumers healthier choices.”

Restaurant chains have complained about the difficulty of complying with the different menu nutrition labeling standards adopted by individual states and cities in recent years. Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association, welcomed the adoption of “a federal nutrition standard so that anyone dining out can have clear, easy-to-use nutrition information at the point of ordering—information that is presented in the same way, no matter what part of the country.”

But the new rules, which were mandated by the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, will likely face legal challenges and may be altered by legislation already introduced in Congress. The National Association of Convenience Stores, for example, has denounced the rules, arguing that they went beyond the intent of the original legislation.

“The one-size-fits-all approach that FDA announced today would treat convenience stores as though they are restaurants, when in fact they operate very differently,” said Lyle Beckwith, the association’s senior vice president for government relations. The association is pushing for legislation that would exempt convenience stores by defining a restaurant as a business that derives at least 50% of its revenue from prepared food.


Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g7264


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