Appeals court upholds NYC's calories-on-menus rule

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NEW YORK -- A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the city's regulation requiring some chain restaurants to post calories on menus and menu boards, saying the rule is a reasonable bid to curb obesity by forcing patrons to know how many calories they're eating.

A 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel rejected arguments by a state trade group that federal law pre-empted the rule and that the city had violated the First Amendment by forcing its view on restaurant patrons that calories are the most important consideration on a menu.

The three-judge panel ruled that the federal Nutrition Labeling and Education Act was not intended to apply to restaurant food, writing that the city "merely stepped into a sphere that Congress intentionally left open to state and local governments."

The calorie rule, the court wrote, "mandates a simple factual disclosure of caloric information and is reasonably related to New York City's goals of combating obesity."

New York City is believed to have been the first U.S. city to enact a regulation requiring calories on menus. Since then, California and Philadelphia have passed similar bills.

The city's rule applies to restaurants that are part of chains with at least 15 outlets across the country. Health Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden said Tuesday that most chain restaurants have been in compliance since the city began enforcing the rule last July.

"Consumers are learning more about the food before they order, and the market for healthier alternatives is growing," he said. "We applaud the court for its decision, and we thank the restaurant industry for living by the rules. New Yorkers will be healthier for it."

The restaurant association didn't immediately comment, saying its attorneys were reviewing the decision.

According to the health department, more than half of New Yorkers are overweight or obese. Officials believe the regulation will prevent 150,000 New Yorkers from becoming obese and will stop another 30,000 from developing diabetes and other health concerns over the next five years.

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