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New FDA Calorie-Labeling Rules will Apply in Restaurant Menus and Vending Machines: Farewell, Obesity?

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In a bid to combat the obesity epidemic in the U.S., federal health regulators will require restaurant chains, grocery stores, movie theaters and even vending machines nationwide to include calorie counts on their menus.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced on Nov. 25 the new rules, which nutrition experts hope could have a positive effect on the health of millions of Americans by providing them information on the amount of calories present in the food they eat.

"Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home," said FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. "These final rules will give consumers more information when they are dining out and help them lead healthier lives."

Too much calorie intake and unhealthy ingredients in food could result in weight problems, which are known to contribute to unwanted health conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart diseases.

The law on menu labeling took effect in 2010 as part of the Affordable Care Act, but the final rules were delayed partly because of opposition from movie theaters and pizza chains such as Domino's, which claim the guidelines would be detrimental to their business.

The final regulations were released this week, and these require restaurant chains with at least 20 locations under the same brand to post the calorie counts of their drinks and food products on their menus, menu boards and drive-thru displays.

The rules will likewise apply to movie theaters and amusement parks as well as on prepared food sold in grocery chains and convenience stores.

Vending machine companies with 20 or more vending machines also have to comply, albeit they have until the end of 2016 to meet the requirements. Other affected companies only have a year to comply with the new guidelines.

While displaying other nutritional information such as the amount of sugar, fat and sodium present isn't mandatory, the guidelines require that companies are able to provide the information upon request.

There are also some exceptions. Smaller and independent establishments that operate only a few restaurants are exempted from the rule. Companies are not also required to post the calorie counts of seasonal items and daily specials. Mixed drinks that are ordered at the bar are also exempted from the guidelines.

"We'll know a lot more about actual changes in behavior as a result of this over time," Hamburg said. "This initiative is really all about trying to provide consumers information that they can use to make more informed food choices for themselves and for their families."

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