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Chopped: Congress Prepares To Slash Obamacare’s Bloomberg-Inspired Calorie Counts

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Guy Bentley Research Associate, Reason Foundation

The House of Representatives could soon vote to tear a slice out of an Obamacare rule that forces restaurants and vending machines to have calorie counts.

Obamacare, as it stands, requires the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ensure that restaurants and other outlets selling food print calorie counts. The FDA has also made it a felony to break the calorie count rules.

“Few people realize ObamaCare’s tentacles extend all the way into your favorite corner pizza shop, even making an error in posting calorie counts a felony. Congress now has the opportunity to take a small slice out of this terrible law,” Jeff Stier, senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research and head of its Risk Analysis Division, said Monday.

“The FDA’s reckless implementation of the calorie-count rule makes the launch of healthcare.gov look seamless by comparison,” Stier added.

The cost of calorie counts is far from trivial, with the White House Office of Management and Budget estimating it will hit the economy to the tune of $1 billion and require a staggering 14 million compliance hours.

The FDA’s rigid approach to enforcing calorie counts by forbidding restaurants to post a range of calories for meals such as pizza also drew sharp criticism from Stier.

“Why didn’t the FDA take advantage of the provision of the bill that directs the agency to revise the regulations to account for the unique attributes of these types of entities without compromising consumers’ access to nutrition information?” Stier said.

“The fact that we even have to resort to fixing the FDA’s rules for implementing menu calorie counts is disheartening since there’s evidence that mandatory calorie counts actually increase the number of calories people consume at these establishments.”

But a swathe of businesses could be spared the FDA’s regulatory burden if the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act of 2015 introduced by Reps. [crscore]Cathy McMorris Rodgers[/crscore] and [crscore]Loretta Sanchez[/crscore] is passed. The bill expempts grocery and convenience stores from the calorie count mandate.

While the exact cost a calorie count mandate may still be up for debate, the latest evidence shows it may actually have zero impact on getting Americans to eat less.

The policy rose to national prominence when it was adopted by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg as a way to give consumers more information and encourage New Yorkers to eat less.

But a study published in November 2015 found that calorie consumption was barely impacted by the changes. The study published in the journal Health Affairs examined 7,700 people who ate at chain restaurants such as McDonald’s both in New York City and New Jersey.

Between January 2013 and January 2014, the calorie intake for diners who ate at restaurants with calorie labels and those without was virtually indistinguishable. (RELATED: The Evidence Is In: Bloomberg’s Calorie Count Menus Were A Total Failure)

Customers who went to restaurants with the calorie counts displayed on menus averaged between 804 and 839 calories per meal, while those who dined at outlets without the labels averaged 802 and 857 per meal. Evidence also showed that overall calorie consumption has actually increased since the policy was put in place.

A 2008 survey showed that people consumed roughly 783 calories per meal at restaurants with calorie labels compared to 756 per meal at restaurants without calorie counts.

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