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Calorie Labeling -Why it’s Important

The Food and Drug Administration in the US has made it a requirement for chain restaurants with 20 or more locations to begin posting calorie information on their menus. The Center for Science in the Public Interest in the US has been pushing for these labeling laws for over a decade.

“Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home, and people today expect clear information about the products they consume,” FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg said in a statement.

What does this mean for us in India – nothing! There is no concrete information about how many calories we consume outside the home, but just look around you – on the streets, in the malls and in all restaurants and coffee shops are packed with people, and that too at all times of the day. We need calorie labeling in India ASAP, anything to help our obesity crisis.

The only thing we import from the US is fatty junk foods. Many of the chain restaurants here are from the US — McDonalds, Dominos, Subway, Starbucks to name a few. We have our homegrown chains as well – Mainland China, Oh, Calcutta, etc.

Will people eat less if they see the amount of calories on the menu – yes! If you knew that the Spicy Paneer Wrap at Mc Donalds has 800 calories or a one chocolate covered donut has 450 calories, it may not stop you from eating it altogether, but you definitely would think twice, and not be eating it as often. You would be aware how fattening it is. Many of these chains have calorie information on their website, but let’s be real – who goes and checks the websites. You need to see this information when you are making the buying decision.

Obesity and all its related health issues are a problem in our country, especially in the urban areas where nearly 25% of the population is either overweight or obese. For lack of open spaces, our youth particularly, meet at restaurants and end up having a bite.

Having this labeling rule would be a boon to India where eating out has increased dramatically over the past decade.

One would argue that the only fast food chains are targeted to list calories on their menus. Why shouldn’t local street stalls or small eateries also list them? Well — local eateries do not have large advertising budgets to entice people to their restaurants, offer freebies, super sized meals, discounts or two for one offers – they do not make you eat more. But we all know which restaurants do, and those are the ones that need to be scrutinized by public health officials. If we went by the same rule of 20 or more stores for label requiring then places like Big Bazaar selling meals and snacks as well as cinema halls such as PVR selling popcorn and samosas would also have to adhere to the calorie labeling norms.

It will take a lot of effort and time before any such law comes to India – big business is set to make money in India at any cost. In the meantime please do look at the websites of the restaurants you frequent to know how many you are consuming.

Here are a few:

Wondering how many calories are in the popcorn you eat when watching a movie? A large sized bag of popcorn from PVR cinemas contains 250 calories, 16 grams of fat and 27 grams of carbohydrates. This is about 7 cups. Share it and better yet – pack your own snack (yes, you’ll have to sneak it through security).

The good news is that our large sized popcorn is a small size in the US theaters – let’s hope it stays that way.

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