Calorie Counts: Coming To A Cocktail Near You
This coming November will mean some big changes for chain restaurants, movie theaters, pizza parlors, vending machines and amusement parks across the nation. In November 2014, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a new policy that will require establishments like these with over 20 locations to start posting the amount of calories in the food they sell. Although this is just one of many recent efforts made in the fight against the obesity epidemic, this policy takes a broader approach to the problem - requiring that the total calories in purchasable alcoholic beverages also be posted on menus for consumers. This move by the FDA is one that surprised even some public health professionals and experts in the field.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that, on average, U.S. adults consume nearly 100 calories from alcoholic beverages daily. It’s likely that this is the primary reason the FDA chose to include cocktails, beer and wine in their new policy. And since publicizing how many calories are in a beverage may make customers think twice about downing multiple drinks while dining out, this policy might help to reduce binge drinking and other forms of excessive alcohol consumption.
Whether or not posting caloric information on menus actually changes customers’ food (or drink) choices is still up for debate. Given that these calorie posting requirements are relatively new and have been implemented in only a few locations thus far, the research on the topic is limited and so far has yielded mixed results. While it appears from this research that the calorie posting may have the most impact on those who already are prone to selecting healthier foods, the effects appear to be less strong for individuals of lower socioeconomic status, many of whom are at particularly high risk for being overweight and obese.
Clearly, posting caloric information is only one of many needed approaches to curbing overweight and obesity. These actions must be accompanied by public awareness campaigns and stepped up efforts by health professionals to screen patients for risk and educate them about healthy food choices.
The same could be said about reducing excessive alcohol use. This policy could have a significant impact on individuals who do not consider the caloric content of the alcohol they drink. It can also be an important part of a larger public health approach to reducing alcohol use among those who drink excessively or in a risky way.
Over 10 years ago, CASAColumbia recommended including caloric information on alcoholic beverages as a way to curb risky drinking in its report The Economic Value of Underage Drinking and Adult Excessive Drinking to the Alcohol Industry. Now that such a move is being made under the umbrella of solving our nation’s obesity epidemic, we hope that progress may also be made to address the public health concern of excessive alcohol use.
Brean Flynn, MA
Brean Flynn is a Research Associate at CASAColumbia