Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor | Richard A. Ball, Commissioner
Jessica A. Chittenden

May 18, 2009

Governor Paterson Introduces Calorie Posting Legislation to Help Wage the War on Obesity

Bill to Require Calorie Posting in Chain Restaurants and Retail Stores Will Aid Consumers in Making Informed Dining Choices

Legislation, Along with Governor’s Other Anti-Obesity Initiatives, Address Historic Obesity Epidemic

Governor David A. Paterson today announced he has proposed legislation to help fight obesity by requiring calorie posting in restaurants, supermarkets and convenience stores that belong to large chains. This initiative, which the Governor discussed in his State of the State address, is part of the State’s War on Obesity, and will help consumers make informed choices when purchasing food prepared away from home.

“More than half of American adults are overweight or obese, and the rates of obesity have tripled in children and teens since 1980. The prevalence of obesity is a serious societal problem that can have devastating consequences for individuals and their families,” said Governor Paterson. “The legislation will help New Yorkers make better decisions about what they eat and will encourage more healthful choices, which will have a significant impact in reducing obesity.”

The Governor’s proposal builds upon a successful New York City initiative requiring calorie posting by restaurants and mobile vendors, but extends the requirement to other food service operations that prepare ready-to-eat foods on site. Restaurants, mobile vendors, grocery stores, convenience stores and other retail stores belonging to chains that do business nationally and offer standardized menus will be required to post calorie counts for all items listed on menus and menu boards, including menu boards used by consumers for purposes of ordering food from their cars at drive-through windows.

American adults and children consume, on average, one-third of their calories from eating out, and children in particular eat almost twice as many calories when eating out compared to eating at home. Studies show that most people find it difficult to guess the calorie counts of typical restaurant meals; one study showed that less than 15 percent of New Yorkers could guess the lowest or highest calorie menu items at any chain restaurant in the survey. Moreover, voluntary industry disclosure practices, such as posting nutritional information online, on tray liners, or in brochures, is inadequate; a study of New York City consumers showed that 95 percent of diners do not see nutrition information provided in this way.

On the other hand, one study showed that in New York City, which has already implemented a calorie posting requirement, fast food customers who saw calorie information displayed purchased an average of 52 fewer calories than customers who did not see the information. A study conducted in California, which has also enacted menu labeling legislation, estimates that if 80 percent of adult customers at fast food restaurant reduce their caloric intake based on posted calorie information, they could each avoid an average of more than two pounds of weight gain per year. Moreover, the New York City initiative is expected to prevent at least 30,000 new cases of diabetes over the next five years.

Senator Thomas K. Duane, Chair of the Senate Health Committee, said: “I fully support Governor Paterson’s bill, which builds upon New York City’s experience requiring the posting of calories in food service establishments. When people are made aware of what they are eating, they can make informed decisions regarding their own health and wellness. If the calorie posting requirement can save one person from having adult-onset diabetes or prevent obesity we have succeeded. New Yorkers can save millions of dollars in health care costs through this simple program and I will fight for its enactment.”

State Health Commissioner Richard Daines, M.D., said: “The Governor’s Program Bill on Calorie Labeling is an important measure that will help New Yorkers make good nutritional choices and avoid obesity, which is associated with serious illness such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer. This legislation, together with his proposals to ban trans fats in restaurants and to require healthy foods in schools, demonstrates Governor Paterson’s dedication to addressing the obesity epidemic and will improve the health and lives of all New Yorkers.”

New York State Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker said: “At the Department of Agriculture and Markets, we try to help consumers identify foods that are produced locally, as well ensure that foods are safe and wholesome to eat. This legislation will make our consumers even more informed about what they are eating by requiring the posting of calories for foods prepared for them. Informed consumers are smart consumers; I applaud Governor Paterson for helping raise the awareness of what we are consuming, which will ultimately aid in making healthier food choices and preventing overeating and obesity.”

The bill has been submitted to the Legislature for introduction, and follows the recent submission of two other Governor’s Program Bills to combat obesity. The first will enact the Healthy Schools Act, requiring the State Education Department, in consultation with the Department of Health and the Agriculture and Markets Department, to promulgate regulations establishing nutritional guidelines for foods served in schools. The Healthy Schools Act will also require schools to develop wellness policies to accomplish objectives such as increasing physical activity among students. The second bill submitted by the Governor will prohibit the use of trans fats in restaurants and other food service operations.

The Governor’s anti-obesity agenda includes a number of other initiatives:

  • First Lady Michelle Paige Paterson’s “Healthy Steps to Albany: First Lady’s Challenge,” which encourages sixth, seventh and eighth graders to exercise, was held in five cities around the State and concluded with last week’s announcement of the contest winners;
  • The “Healthy Foods, Healthy Communities” program, announced by the Governor in his State of the State address, established a $10 million revolving loan fund to support the development of grocery stores carrying fresh produce in underserved areas, and a request for proposals will be issued next month;
  • The guidelines and toolkit issued as part of the “Healthy Kids, Healthy New York After-School Initiative” will help children acquire healthy habits by incorporating nutritional food options into diets, increasing physical activity, and limiting the amount of time spent in front of a television on a daily basis, and after-school providers that implement the guidelines will be formally recognized by the Governor’s Office in the spring;
  • The enacted 1009-10 Budget included the Governor’s proposal for $1 million in funding to support public and private organizations working together to plan and create environmental and policy changes that support access to sustainable healthy, affordable food and accessible safe environments for physical activity and play, and applications for participation will be released over the summer.

Director of the New York State Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Alliance Nancy Huehnergarth said: “Governor Paterson’s strong calorie labeling bill will provide consumers with the information they need to make healthier decisions for themselves and their families at chain food establishments. With obesity rates skyrocketing and New York State spending nearly $6.1 billion yearly in obesity-related medical expenditures, posting calorie information on menus and menu boards at popular chain restaurants is a critical intervention that will create awareness, help change eating habits, and lead to reformulations of highly caloric fare. In one study in New York City, fast food customers who saw calorie information purchase 52 fewer calories than those who didn’t see the information.”

President of the Academy and an Albany based Family Physician Jose “Jun” David, MD said: “The New York State Academy of Family Physicians commends Governor and First Lady Paterson for their efforts to reduce and prevent childhood obesity in the State. With the continued leadership of the Governor and First Lady and their strong and innovative obesity prevention plan, we believe the State can effectively turn the tide on childhood obesity and enable our children to have long, productive and healthy lives. Today’s announcement on the release of the Governor’s Program Bill to require chain restaurants to disclose the calorie content of foods served will significantly improve the ability of New Yorkers to make informed decisions about meal choices when they eat out. The Academy strongly supports this and the other important initiatives included in the Governor’s obesity prevention plan. We are eager to work with the Administration in implementing this important public health program.”

CEO of the American Cancer Society of NY & NJ Donald Distasio said: “Many people know that excess pounds raise the risk of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and stroke, but few are aware of the link between obesity and cancer – 11,000 New Yorkers die each year from cancers caused by obesity and lack of physical activity. With approximately half of the food dollar now being spent away from home, it makes sense to make caloric information visible in restaurants, where foods are typically higher in fat and calories, and portion sizes are larger than those at home. Shoppers have grown accustomed to having nutrition information on packaged foods in supermarkets; they want and deserve to have it on menus as well.”

Spokesman for the American Heart Association and Chief of Cardiology for Albany Medical Center Dr. Edward Philbin said: “To reduce the death and disability caused by heart disease, New York and the nation’s No. 1 killer, we must address the obesity crisis. If you have too much fat — especially in your waist area — you’re at higher risk for health problems, including high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, heart disease and stroke. We applaud Governor Paterson for taking steps to combat the obesity crisis and his support of legislation that will provide consumers with calorie information when dining in chain restaurants. Studies show people consume fewer calories when they see the numbers posted. Fighting the obesity epidemic requires a comprehensive approach and New York has the opportunity to take the first step against obesity by adopting this simple public health policy.”

Leadership Board President of the American Diabetes Association and head of endocrinology at Albany Medical College Dr. Matthew Leinung said: “The American Diabetes Association commends Governor Paterson and his wife, Michelle Paige Paterson, for the leadership they’ve shown in addressing overweight and obesity, and thus diseases like type 2 diabetes. This statewide legislation would build upon the success New York City has found in providing calorie information at chain restaurants. Patrons are making healthier choices there, and restaurants are choosing healthier ingredients to lower their now visible calorie counts. With diabetes affecting 1.5 million citizens in New York and related medical costs surpassing $8 billion annually, it is truly imperative to pursue such common sense, low cost efforts as part of a multi-pronged approach to improving the public’s health.”

President of the Empire State Medical Association Daniel Laroche, M.D. said: “The Empire State Medical Association applauds the Governor’s efforts to pass calorie posting legislation. Obesity is an epidemic in New York and nationally. Passing of this important legislation will empower the public have having more knowledge of what they consume to help each individual prevent obesity, improve health, and reduce health care costs.”

FAAP President of AAP, District II New York State Henry Schaeffer, M.D. said: “Pediatricians across New York continue to enthusiastically support Governor Paterson’s initiatives to help address New York State’s children’s and families’ obesity challenge. Calorie posting is one more piece of the puzzle that will help parents chose foods that are healthy for their children and for themselves. And calorie posting may also have a significant positive impact on the food choices that adolescents make. It is a win/win proposal.”

President of the Medical Society of the State of New York David T. Hannan, MD, MPA said: “The Medical Society of the State of New York has long recognized that children and adults across the country are becoming more seriously overweight and that obesity puts them at risk for serious health concerns such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and elevated cholesterol and blood pressure levels. We must work to model and reinforce healthful eating behaviors as well as lifestyles which recognize the benefit of regular exercise. We recognize and support Governor Paterson’s recognition of these problems and his work to shape healthy behaviors through appropriate legislative initiatives. We will continue to work with Governor Patterson as we move to address this growing public health problem.”

2009 Press Releases