While Carol Horn was waiting with her two young boys inside the Applebee’s in Bayside, she noticed the calorie postings on the menus, something that a number of borough restaurants have been compelled to do during the past few months. Although she sees the signs and calorie listings, they have not changed her eating habits.
“I don’t even pay attention to it,” Horn said.
Many of the restaurant patrons Courier reporters spoke to said that they either haven’t noticed or don’t care about the calorie counts posted on the menus of restaurants throughout the city that have 15 or more locations nationwide.
However, some people have changed their eating habits as the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) predicted, after a new law requiring the chains to post the information went into effect earlier this year.
“Because America is overweight, I think it’s a really smart thing to do,” Arielle Green said inside a Bayside Starbucks. Green believes that this could begin posing a problem for restaurants because “no one will want to eat or drink anything” and the calorie counts were “intimidating.”
As Green made the comments, her friend Jennifer Tsiatsis, had just been reading the menu board. “That’s exactly what just happened to me,” Tsiatsis said.
The original provision requiring certain restaurants to post calories was approved in December of 2006, but the New York State Restaurant Association (NYSRA) sued the city in order to stop it from going into effect.
After the courts ruled in the city’s favor, the DOH submitted its current provisions, and the NYSRA sued again. The case is still pending, but the courts rejected the NYSRA’s request to extend the date at which fines can be imposed on restaurants.
As of July 19, restaurants that do need to meet the city’s requirements for calories postings can receive a $200 summons for a first violation with fines escalating up to $2,000 for future violations.
“Restaurants do not object to providing information to customers,” said Chuck Hunt, Executive Vice President of NYSRA. “Restaurants feel that they should be able to provide the information in a manner in which they feel is most appropriate for their customers.”
Many restaurants did provide nutritional information to customers before the city’s provision through pamphlets or on their websites, but the DOH said that many customers did not see this information.
“Although fast-food restaurants report publishing nutritional information publicly, most chains’ current methods of providing this information to patrons are ineffective,” wrote NYC DOHMH Commissioner Dr. Thomas R. Frieden and a group of DOHMH doctors in an American Journal of Public Health article. “Placement of calorie information at point of purchase is more effective and may be associated with lower calorie purchases among consumers reporting seeing information.”
However, Hunt disagrees with that argument.
“It’s certainly not the answer to obesity control,” he said, adding that 75 percent of meals are consumed at home, while only 10 percent are at restaurants. “Over 14 years ago, the Food and Drug Administration required information on packaging in stores. Look out your window at the people walking by and tell me if that was effective.”
Calorie postings have only been in effect since May 5, with DOHMH restaurant inspectors issuing 347 calorie violations at restaurants throughout the city and 92 in Queens, according to DOHMH data. However, inspectors have only been levying fines at restaurants since July 18, and restaurants are inspected on a daily basis.
Meanwhile, Marion Nestle, a professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University and author of What to Eat, said that not enough time has elapsed in order to determine if the new law has had a measurable effect.
“I have no idea whether it will help people eat less,” she said. “The Health Department is doing the research and we have to wait and see.”
Although the calorie posting may not have an impact on all populations, some already-health conscious people may stop eating higher calorie food at restaurants altogether.
“I go to the gym and work out,” Robert said outside a McDonald’s in Woodhaven. “I didn’t really realize I compromise my entire workout coming here. Three hours in the gym is like one meal.”
A male between the ages of 26 and 40 who is sedentary should consume about 2,400 calories a day, according to DOHMH, while females in the same age group should consume 1,800 calories a day. To put those numbers in perspective, one Big Mac sandwich at McDonald’s - without a drink or French fries - contains 540 calories.
Managers of restaurants were split on whether or not calorie postings have changed their customers’ ordering. “We put these listings up two weeks ago,” said Nina Alis, manager of a Dunkin’ Donuts in Douglaston. “People have been changing their normal orders around, and people have been buying less since we’ve put this up.”
Kristina Luciano, a manager of McDonald’s in Howard Beach, had a different response. “Honestly,” she said, “no one cares.”
Another factor on whether the calorie postings have had an impact may depend on the type of restaurant. For example, Subway has offered customers lower calorie items for years, and has displayed caloric information on napkins and pamphlets. “The same orders are coming in,” said Douglaston Subway manager, Carlos Javier. “I haven’t seen any difference in the ordering.”
Meanwhile some people believe that the true effectiveness of the postings ultimately resides with the person’s willingness to be healthy.
“I think it’s beneficial to a lot of people because it raises their awareness,” said Kim Karafiol. “But for some people, it won’t have any effect because they already eat healthier food.”

This article was reported by Eric Barbera, Stephen J. Bronner, Adam Misch, Marianna Nash and Pete Davis. It was written by Stephen J. Bronner and edited by Pete Davis.

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