- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2008

NEW YORK (AP) — New York City health officials won a big victory yesterday when a federal judge upheld a regulation requiring some chain restaurants to post calories on menus.

U.S. District Judge Richard Holwell rebuffed a challenge from the New York State Restaurant Association, a trade group that argued the rule violates the First Amendment by forcing restaurants to “convey the government”s message regarding the importance of calories.”

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene says the regulation, which takes effect Monday, will help the city achieve its goal of reducing obesity. The judge agreed.

“It seems reasonable to expect that some consumers will use the information disclosed … to select lower-calorie meals … and these choices will lead to a lower incidence of obesity,” Judge Holwell said.

Chuck Hunt, executive vice president of the restaurant association”s New York City chapter, said it would ask the judge to stay his ruling pending an appeal. The health department said it would not start fining restaurants until June 3.

“We don”t object to people doing it voluntarily,” Mr. Hunt said yesterday. “Our problem was the government agency forcing them to do it. We think restaurants should be able to determine from their customers how they want to get the information.”

The new rule applies to restaurants that are part of chains with at least 15 outlets nationwide. That includes fast-food places such as McDonald’s and Wendy’s, as well as sit-down establishments like Olive Garden and T.G.I. Friday’s.

Some eateries, including Starbucks and Chipotle, have already started to post calorie information — and it appears to be having an effect.

Mark Laughlin, a freelance art director eating lunch yesterday at a Chipotle near Manhattan’s busy Penn Station, said he opted to have a burrito bowl, without the tortilla or corn salsa after reading the calorie count. The menu said a burrito ranges from 420 to 910 calories, depending on toppings.

His lunch companion, Sara Hearn, agreed that the listings are a good idea.

“Just giving people the information will make them think twice about what they eat,” she said.

Others customers thought the rule was unnecessary.

“People are going to eat what they want; it doesn”t matter what the menus say,” said Ken Poulin, who didn”t even glance at the calorie information as he ordered his burrito. “People need to eat more vegetables and have common sense.”

Bob Bertini, a spokesman for Wendy”s, said the chain would comply with the rule.

“We”ve been providing that information for nearly 30 years on a poster available for customers to review before they order,” Mr. Bertini said.

The calorie rule is another in a string of public health measures promoted by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. During his first term, he banned smoking in bars and restaurants, and more recently, he pushed for a ban on artificial trans fats in restaurants.

New York City is thought to be the first U.S. city to enact a regulation requiring calorie information on menus. Since then, California lawmakers and those in King County in Washington, which includes Seattle, have considered similar bills.

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