Calorie-counting measure on menu

If San Mateo County supervisors have their way, residents will know just how many calories and fat grams are entering their bodies before the first bite of Quarter Pounder touches their lips.

Following in the footsteps of San Francisco and Santa Clara, county lawmakersare drafting legislation requiring chain restaurants to post such nutritional information as calorie counts on their menus.

Recommendations for an ordinance will come before the supervisors’ Housing, Health and Human Services Committee on June 3, and will head to the full board within the next two months, Supervisor Jerry Hill said.

The law would affect the 14 or 15 chain restaurants in the county’s unincorporated areas, but its reach could eventually extend countywide.

“We’re looking for something that would be easy for the cities to adopt,” Hill said. “Our goal is to send it out to the cities and see if there’s an interest.”

Hill said the law would empower people to make informed choices while dining out, which is one way to combat obesity.

While the specifics of the legislation are still unclear, San Mateo County’s ordinance will closely resemble those of its neighbors to ensure consistency, Hill said.

San Francisco’s ordinance, which takes effect next month, affects restaurants with more than 20 locations in the state. Santa Clara’s law, which has not yet been passed, includes restaurants with 14 or more locations.

The San Francisco law requires that printed menus include calories, saturated fat, carbohydrates and sodium. Santa Clara’s proposed legislation also includes trans fats.

Kevin Westlye, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, said listing that much informationon a menu is an unreasonable expense for restaurants, and may be confusing to the public.

“If you’re looking to alert the mass of diners that eat out to healthier eating choices, calories would be the most understood indicator,” he said.

Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science and the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group, said only about half of chain restaurants provide nutritional information, usually online or in brochures.

“It’s like posting speed limits by putting little pamphlets on the side of the highway,” she said.

Obesity expert Helen Lee, research fellow with the Public Policy Institute of California, said there were no studies to suggest posting clear nutritional information cuts down on obesity.

“Maybe with that knowledge they’ll make a better decision,” Lee said. “At the same time, you can argue that people are going to a chain restaurant because they want a burger and fries instead of a salad.”

tbarak@sfexaminer.com  

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