California restaurants will soon count calories

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Trend-setting, health-conscious California on Tuesday became the first U.S. state to require fast-food restaurant chains to list calories on their menus.

A man takes a bite from a hamburger in Hollywood, California October 3, 2007. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

The state estimates that residents collectively have gained 360 million pounds (165 million kg) in the last decade, and it sees the calorie count as one way to stem the obesity epidemic.

A calorie information rule took effect in New York City this year, and more than a dozen states are considering similar health code provisions.

Starting July 1 next year, chains with more than 20 locations must offer brochures with calorie and nutritional information. By January 1, 2011, they must list calorie information on menus and indoor menu boards.

“California is continuing to lead the nation with programs and policies that promote health and nutrition,” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said. The former Mr. Olympia and Mr. Universe bodybuilder signed the bill into law in front of a Chili’s restaurant.

Menu labeling rules passed in San Francisco, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties will be nullified by the state law.

The American Cancer Society and the California Center for Public Health Advocacy supported the menu labeling legislation.

The California Restaurant Association, which represents 22,000 operators ranging from McDonald’s Corp to mom and pop diners, favors a state law over a patchwork of local measures, said Jot Condie, the group’s president and chief executive.

“I think New York was probably the closest thing to a laboratory in this regard. It hasn’t impacted the bottom line to restaurants,” Condie said.

Will Kussell, Dunkin’ Donuts worldwide president and chief brand officer, also has said his New York locations were not hit by the disclosure requirement.

“We have not seen a significant impact on our bakery sales,” he said in a recent interview.

In July, California became the first state in the nation to prohibit restaurants from preparing foods with trans fats, which clog arteries and increase the risk of heart disease.

Reporting by Lisa Baertlein and Peter Henderson; Editing by Xavier Briand