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Popular restaurants, sans calorie listings

One way restaurants could avoid state and federal legislators' requiring them to post nutrition information on menus would be to go ahead and post the numbers on their own.

Many restaurants already do make calorie counts, fat and sodium contents and other key nutrition facts readily available to customers, if not on menus then at least on brochures, in-store kiosks or on Web sites.

But some restaurants still don't. I was surprised to learn, when writing this week's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column about the new Cook This, Not That! book, that several huge chains don't post nutrition data for all the items on their menus.

These chains include Applebee's, California Pizza Kitchen, Carrabba's, Cheesecake Factory, Hooters, IHOP and T.G.I. Friday's. The book includes Friendly's on the list, too, but when I checked that chain's Web site, it was easy to find the nutrition facts. (It's sometimes been the case that restaurants called out by the Eat This, Not That! books make efforts to mend their ways after seeing what the books say about them.)

By way of promoting some better-for-you menu items, IHOP shares nutrition data for just a handful of foods. And Applebee's has a new crop of 550-calories-or-under meals; that calorie estimation is all the data you get, though.

The lack of information makes you wonder what these folks are hiding. Oh, wait: What they're likely hiding is an ungodly amount of fat, sodium and calories. Maybe they worry that revealing those amounts will hurt business.

Even so, it seems to me that if places like KFC, McDonald's and Outback (which, as a sit-down restaurant, is in the same league with the restaurants listed in Cook This, Not That!) can make their nutrition facts known, anybody ought to be able to do so.

This is an issue I wish the free market could sort out. Rather than impose legislation, what if we consumers opted only to shop and dine at places where nutrition data is handy? And what if we wrote to restaurants we might otherwise enjoy, letting the owners know that we won't be buying their food till they tell us what's in it?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  January 26, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Nutrition and Fitness , Obesity  
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Voluntary improvements? You've got to be kidding!

We wouldn't need food safety laws, limits on smoking in public places, or a thousand other regulations if unfettered "free markets" worked for the good of society.

When it comes to public health, "free markets" are very, very expensive.

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Posted by: jimpurdy | January 26, 2010 7:59 AM | Report abuse

Umm, sorry, but the free market IS sorting this out. Right now, folks can choose from amongst plenty of places that post nutritional info. The fact that these restaurants don't seem to be gaining any kind of competitive edge seems to indicate that overall, availability of nutrition data just doesn't matter that much. Just because you're not getting the answer you want doesn't mean the market isn't speaking.

Which is why we also have government. I've read some interesting stories here and on the NYT about studies showing the different choices people do (and don't) make when faced with nutritional information. So if society as a whole thinks we should take advantage of those effects to nudge people to making better choices, and yet people as individuals aren't doing it on their own, then government should step in.

But I didn't take your poll, because I disagree with both answers. Your answers assume everyone agrees that access to nutritional data is so important that, if it's not provided voluntarily, should be made mandatory. But I'm ambivalent about whether this rises to the level where government should step in.

Posted by: laura33 | January 26, 2010 8:10 AM | Report abuse

I agree with laura33. Your poll is so biased that it's laughable. There is no good evidence that posting nutritional information leads to better choices by consumers, especially over the long-term and especially by the obese and/or young. Forcing businesses to engage in costly actions that may not produce the desired behaviorial change in their customers is just plain stupid. Very PC, but stupid.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | January 26, 2010 8:35 AM | Report abuse

Please note the only major chain to refuse to publish any nutrition information is Checkers/Rally's.



Posted by: bs2004 | January 28, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

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