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Some Numbers You Can Really Chew On

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Cancer related image Photo: Getty Images

For far too long I have been eating guilt free.

I could only guess if, or pretend that, restaurant salad was actually a healthy choice or if the french fries were within an acceptable caloric intake limit. But I never dreamed just how many calories I was actually consuming – until now.

The Federal Health Care Reform Law, dubbed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, requires chain restaurants to begin posting calories and other nutrition information on their menus so consumers can make healthier food selections. The Food and Drug Administration plans to roll out the final regulations before the end of 2011, but some chain restaurants aren’t waiting. I got my first glimpse at it this week at Islands Burgers and quite frankly, I was stunned.

I am still trying to wrap my head around the fact that an order of Chili Cheese French Fries is more than 3,200 calories, twice the normal calories a typical woman should consume in a day. Add a one-third pound burger and that jumps to 4,500 calories— without a beverage. And that salad I’ve been ordering? Well it is a whopping 1,700 calories: not exactly a virtuous alternative. A healthy diet is generally considered 2,000 per day.

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, “Giving consumers clear nutritional information makes it easier for them to choose healthier options that can help fight obesity and make us all healthier.” I have to agree. Rather than my usual salad, I chose the turkey burger at 600 calories. Normally, it wouldn’t have been my first choice, but after seeing the number of calories in other menu items, I found it rather delicious and satisfying.

Adding menu information is required under the new law for all chain restaurants and retail food establishments with more than 20 locations. In addition, vendors who own or operate 20 or more vending machines must post calorie information for food sold in a vending machine, unless the required nutrition information is already visible on individual packages of food inside the machine. Salad bars will be required to list each item separately. Eating establishments with less than 20 locations are not required to participate, but can do so voluntarily.

Knowing how many calories you’re consuming is important information, along with the amount of salt, saturated fat and sugar we are eating, which is also likely part of the new regulations. Why? As FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. points out, “Americans now consume about one-third of their total calories on foods prepared outside the home.”

Seeing how many calories most menu items have, is there any wonder why the national obesity rates are soaring? About one-third of U.S. adults (33.8 percent) are obese. Approximately 17 percent (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2—19 years are obese, according to data from the National Health and Examination Survey. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has mapped obesity rates by state and every U.S. state has more than 20 percent of its population that's considered obese. When you talk about the number of Americans that are overweight, it’s half the U.S. population—about 152 million people.

This trend is alarming considering the association between obesity and many chronic diseases, including several types of cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders, sleep apnea and gallbladder disease.

Besides the human cost of obesity, lowering the obesity rate is in the national economic interest. The CDC estimates the U.S. spends $92.6 billion (in 2002 dollars) of annual medical spending is attributable to overweight and obesity (9.1 percent). Obesity now rivals the costs attributable to smoking, which ranges between 6.5 percent and 14.4 percent.

The move to give consumers consistent and easy-to-understand nutrition information about the food they eat is a good first step in helping us make healthier choices and lowering our national healthcare bill.

What do you think? Will seeing the calorie and content information on the menu make a difference in the foods you choose?

Lynette Summerill, an award-winning writer and scuba enthusiast lives in San Diego, CA. In addition to writing about cancer-related issues for EmpowHER, her work has been seen in newspapers and magazines around the world.

FDA News Release.
Accessed at: http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm249471.htm

US Obesity Trends 2010. CDC Website. http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/trends.html

National Medical Spending Attributable To Overweight And Obesity: How Much, And Who’s Paying? Eric A. Finkelstein, Ian C. Fiebelkorn, and Guijing Wang. Health Affairs Web Exclusive. 14 May 2003. Accessed at: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14527256

Reviewed August 4, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment1 Comments

Oh wow, I have gotten about 3 or 4 different samples from major brands. It is not difficult to find them. Search online for "123 Samples" you can find them easily.

August 5, 2011 - 12:40am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.