Counting Calories: California Fights Fat

New rules for restaurants start Wednesday

California will step up its campaign against bad diets, bulging waistlines and clogged arteries when three new laws dealing with restaurant and school food take effect July 1.

The Golden State will become the first in the nation to require restaurants to disclose how many calories are in their standard menu items.

It will also bar schools from offering students fries, baked goods and other dishes made with oils, margarine or shortening containing artery-clogging trans fats, and it will prevent high schools from selling students sodas.

"California is becoming a healthier place for people to live, especially for California children," said Harold Goldstein, executive director of the nonprofit California Center for Public Health Advocacy.

The new calorie-count requirements are modeled after a New York City ordinance and affect 123 chains with at least 20 restaurants in California.

Starting July 1, those restaurants can either list the calories in their standard items on menus and indoor menu boards or they can offer customers brochures listing the amount of calories, saturated fat, salt and carbohydrates in those items.

Starting in 2011, the calorie counts in standard menu items -- food and drinks the restaurants sell at least half the year -- will have to be listed on menus and indoor menu boards. Drive-through customers will have to be offered brochures providing nutritional information about standard menu choices.


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The law's author, state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, said the measure will give diners "reliable, accessible nutrition information that will help them make more informed, healthier choices."

He said he focused the measure on large restaurant chains to avoid imposing a "significant burden" on mom-and-pop operations, but he said it would still cover more than 17,000 restaurants.

"I think it sets a high standard for the rest of the country to follow," he added.

The California Restaurant Association agreed to support the legislation after Padilla added language that barred similar local ordinances and made other changes.

"Obviously it's better to have statewide standards rather than a patchwork of local ordinances," said Daniel Conway, a spokesman for the association.

The trans-fat ban in school food follows earlier legislation that barred artificial trans fats in restaurant dishes.

It bars artificially created trans fats in school food sold in vending machines and by private, on-campus food service operations, including some big-name fast-food outlets. Previous legislation covered school cafeteria food.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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