US orders calorie labelling for fast-food restaurants and vending machines

US health officials hope Americans will think twice about tucking into fast foods such as these two crunchy tacos at a Taco Bell restaurant in Glendale, Calif when the calorie count is staring them in the face from the menu under sweeping new rules a
US health officials hope Americans will think twice about tucking into fast foods such as these two crunchy tacos at a Taco Bell restaurant in Glendale, Calif when the calorie count is staring them in the face from the menu under sweeping new rules announced on Tuesday. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States on Tuesday announced sweeping new rules forcing chain restaurants and pizza parlours to publish calorie counts on menus in an attempt to combat the nation's obesity epidemic.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said chain restaurants and vending machines with 20 or more locations would be required to provide customers with full nutritional information about the food being sold.

Similar rules have already been used for years in several US states and cities, such as California and New York.

"Americans eat and drink one third of their calories away from home and people today expect clear information about the products they consume," FDA commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg said in a statement.

"Making calorie information available on chain restaurant menus and vending machines is an important step for public health that will help consumers make informed choices for themselves and their families."

Under the new rules, restaurants will be required to publish calorie information for all standards prominently on menus and menu boards. Temporary menu items and specials are exempt from the requirements.

The menu labelling rule also includes food facilities at venues such as movie theatres and amusement parks.

Establishments affected will also have to provide upon request detailed nutritional information for food items such as total calories, total fat, calories from fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, fibre, sugar and protein.

The finalisation of the new rules was required under the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

The rules come as America grapples with ever rising rates of obesity.

More than one-third of American adults (34.9 per cent or 78.6 million) are obese, according to recent figures cited by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC said the annual medical cost of treating obesity in the United States in 2008 was US$147 billion (S$191.67 billion). Medical care for obese people averages $1,429 more per person than individuals of normal weight.