Californians have gained 360 million pounds over the last decade, while one in three children and one in four teens are overweight or at risk, according to the California Department of Public Health.
In one of the latest efforts to deal with this issue, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger last week signed Senate Bill 1420, authored by Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), which will require restaurant chains with 20 or more locations in California to post nutrition information on menus and indoor menu boards by Jan. 1, 2011. This will affect over 17,000 restaurants statewide.
SB 1420 preempts local ordinances of a similar bent, such as one in San Francisco, in order to create a uniform state standard for displaying nutritional information rather than a mélange of local ordinances.
As of July 1, 2009, restaurants must provide brochures with either caloric content information or other nutritional information, such as grams of saturated fat, grams of carbohydrates and milligrams of sodium at the point of sale, including drive-thrus.
“The legislation will help Californians make more informed, healthier choices by making calorie information easily accessible at thousands of restaurants throughout our state,” Schwarzenegger said in a written statement. “By being the first state to provide this information to consumers, California is continuing to lead the nation with programs and policies that promote health and nutrition.“
Nationwide restaurant chain Chipotle is already on the ball in regard to providing nutrition information, which has been available online for several years now, and plans to comply with California’s new requirements, said Chipotle’s director of public relations Chris Arnold in an e-mail.
“We were among the first restaurants in New York to comply with the menu labeling law there,” Arnold said. “It has been business as usual since making that change and we expect the same going forward. And we offer a service model that allows customers to choose exactly what goes into their individual order and make dietary choices that fit their lifestyles.“
Starbucks is another company concerned with nutrition, and already makes nutritional information available both online and in brochures carried in Starbucks stores throughout the U.S. and Canada, said Starbucks marketing manager Alan Richardson in an e-mail.
“At Starbucks, we believe that nutrition is a very important consumer issue and recognize our significant responsibility to provide nutrition information about our [products] to customers,” Richardson said. “One of our business objectives is to proactively address nutrition in our products and we continue to take steps in this direction.“
Specifically, in 2007 Starbucks removed artificial trans fats from all food and beverages, switched milk used in beverages to 2 percent milk and continues to offer a consumer-adapted product line including non-fat or soy milk, sugar-free syrups, fresh fruit and reduced-fat baked items, he said.
The California Restaurant Association, which both promotes and protects the restaurant industry through lobbying and grass roots campaigns, is in favor of SB 1420 because it provides a uniform state law in place of a loose patchwork of local ordinances.
“[We] came to the table with Governor Schwarzenegger and Senator Padilla to help shape this bill to recognize the needs and concerns of our members,” said Jot Condie, president and CEO of the California Restaurant Association. “SB 1420 creates a single statewide standard with the flexibility and phased-in implementation that our members requested, and does so without creating any new opportunities for lawsuits against California’s restaurateurs.“
SB 1420 is just the latest in a series of nutritional standard reforms California has made in recent years.
Since 2005, Governor Schwarzenegger has signed a multitude of bills aimed at improving the nutritional health of Californians, such as SB 441 last year by Senator Tom Torlakson (D-Antioch), which requires 35 percent of the food and one third of the beverages in vending machines on state property to meet nutritional guidelines by Jan. 1, 2011.
In 2005, SB 12, SB 281 and SB 965 were signed in an attempt to battle childhood obesity by taking junk food and sodas off of K-12 campuses, setting higher nutrition standards for cafeteria food and providing $18.2 million toward more fruits and vegetables for school meals.
In 2008, Assembly Bill 97 began to phase out the use of trans fats, due to their link with coronary heart disease, in all California restaurants beginning in 2010 and in all baked goods by 2011.
AARON BRUNER can be reached at email@example.com.