Menu Labeling

Requiring Chain Restaurants to Post Calorie Counts on Menus

Promoting the Consumer’s Right to Know

Overview

Public opinion polls showed that Californians wanted calories printed on menus, but restaurants were dead set against it. Showing the need and desire for nutritional information, we led the campaign that made California the first state in the nation to require it. Congress then built on our success, mandating menu labeling across the country.

Data and Research

We developed a brand new index describing the presence of different types of retail food outlets, called the Retail Food Environment Index (RFEI). We then conducted a study showing that California cities have 4 times more unhealthy food outlets than healthy ones and that the situation is worst in low-income communities and communities of color.  At the same time, a public opinion poll we commissioned showed that 84% of voters wanted calorie counts to be posted on menus and menu boards.

RFEI is calculated by dividing the number of fast food restaurant and convenience stores by the number of supermarkets, produce stores, and farmers markets.

Media Advocacy

Our Retail Food Environment study got front page coverage in almost every newspaper in the state, with stories describing cities inundated with fast food. We developed a Fast Food Quiz that showed people don't know which menu options have the most calories. And we created a YouTube video that poked fun at restaurant nutrition brochures.

Community Mobilization

We helped cities throughout California either enact or propose enacting local menu labeling laws. Media coverage about the issue soared, with local progress building statewide momentum.

Partnership Building

We established a broad coalition of more than 100 organizations representing health care providers, children's advocates, and business leaders, all of whom supported enactment of statewide menu labeling.

Policymaker Education

We sent our Fast Food Quiz to legislator and their staff – they failed it like everybody else, giving them first-hand experience of the need for menu labeling. Our fact sheets compared our facts about the benefits of menu labeling to the restaurant industry’s myth-filled scare tactics.

Policy Change

Our efforts culminated in the enactment of the nation's first statewide menu labeling law (SB 1420, 2008).

Expansion

Following California's lead, Congress included national menu labeling as a provision of the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

Learn More

To explore how we promoted the consumer’s right to know download the full case study.