Supervisors require restaurant chains to post nutritional info
March 20, 2008 2:22 PM
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has dished out a new law requiring chain restaurants to post the amount of calories in dishes directly on menus next to listed foods, in hopes that city residents will think twice before ordering a side of fries.
The law also requires that San Francisco chain restaurants list the amount of fat, carbohydrates and sodium on menus posted on large signs and boards. Restaurants with 20 or more locations in California, such as McDonald’s, Jamba Juice and Panda Express, are considered chains.
SF State Student Frances Santiago, 19, said she has struggled with her weight since she was a child. The math major said the lack of nutritional information available to her parents led them to believe that a bun, tomato and lettuce made a hamburger healthy.
“I’m bitter towards my mom for feeding my brother and I fast food when we were little,” said Santiago, who gave up fast food her freshman year in high school. “If my parents had known how bad that food was they wouldn’t have given it to me. My mom has even said that now.”
Joan Frank, director of SF State’s Dietetics Program and a registered dietician, said she is in favor of the new law because it puts nutritional information in the hands of the consumer.
“When someone is looking at the menu and they choose the single patty burger over the triple burger with cheese and bacon because of the nutritional information on the menus, then this program will have succeeded,” Frank said of the law, which passed March 11.
District 9 Supervisor Tom Ammiano authored the law in 2007 in order to help San Franciscans become healthier, his staff members said.
“This law helps to target obesity and a lot of health problems tied to nutrition,” said Zachary Tuller, Ammiano’s senior aide.
While Frank agrees with the supervisors’ decision, she said such laws affect the restaurant business.
In-N-Out Burger corporate offices in Orange County did not respond to questions by press time.
“It is controversial. Restaurants are against them because it is more work for them,” Frank said.
Reprinting menus with updated nutritional information will create extra work and cost for chain restaurants, but former restaurant owner Dr. Mehmet Ergul said he thinks the law is necessary.
“It needs to be done because not everyone is knowledgeable about what they’re eating,” said Ergul, assistant professor of hospitality management at SF State.
Ergul, who owned his own fast food, catering and school cafeteria in his native Turkey, teaches a restaurant and catering management class at SF State. He said he conducts research in healthy eating, particularly for children.
“I really believe in this law for the children,” Ergul said.
Both Frank and Ergul agree that the law is not perfect, but that putting nutritional information on menus is a step in the right direction for San Francisco.
“Putting information on menus is controversial, because sometimes you want to know what you’re eating and sometimes you don’t,” Frank said. “But it will help a lot of people and people can also choose to ignore it. It ends up being their choice.”
Frank also pointed out that consumers already can access nutritional information for chain restaurants through brochures or restaurant Web sites.
“The nutritional information available hasn’t stemmed the current tide of obesity,” Frank said. “It’s already available to consumers. In that sense, people have to choose to pick up the brochure and they aren’t using it.”
Nicholas Ng, 25, said he doesn’t eat out a lot, but the law won’t make a difference to him with his fast food favorites like In-N-Out.
“If I’ve had it before and I know it’s good, I’ll probably order it again,” said Ng, a mechanical engineering major. “But I would think the law might discourage people from buying the food or giving their order a second guess.”
As a college lecturer, Frank understands that students still go to fast food restaurants because of their hectic schedules. She suggested they choose things like a small hamburger without fries, fresh fruit, grilled chicken sandwiches or salads with reduced calorie dressings.
“You can still go to a fast food restaurant and make a decent choice,” Frank said.
Kim Rosen-Kulp, an SF State dietetics student, supports the law and said raising a teenager and a small child made her see that early nutrition awareness is important.
“In high school, the big things are frappuccino and fast food,” Rosen-Kulp said, adding that such items are also popular with college students. “The earlier people make those healthy eating choices, the better it is in the long run for health and trying to control weight.”
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