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Massachusetts making fast food fitter

Sadly, it may not come as a shock to discover that more than one-third of U.S. adults (that’s 72 million people!), and 16 percent of U.S. children are not just overweight, but obese, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In an attempt to combat these frightening statistics, Massachusetts is preparing to administer some of the most stringent restaurant menu labeling rules in the country on Wednesday, which will require fast-food chains to list how many calories are in the food they sell.

According to Fox News, the state’s Public Health Council will vote on Wednesday whether to make fast-food chains list the calorie counts of their menu items on their menus or menu boards.

Many expect these regulations to be more comprehensive than the ones California took on last September when it became the first U.S. state with menu labeling rules for fast-food chains like McDonald’s and Yum Brands’ KFC.

These rules may be coming at just the right time. Obesity has only grown in the U.S. in recent years. Regulations designed with intentions of allowing people to make better-informed decisions about the foods they eat could only provide benefits to the country at large.

In Massachusetts alone, more than half of the adults are overweight or obese, as reported by a 2008 state report that also showed adult obesity had doubled in 20 years.

New York also added a restaurant calorie information rule last year. Now more than a dozen states are considering similar provisions.

Unlike the California regulations, Massachusetts will include items at restaurant drive-through windows, where about 65 percent of fast food is purchased, according to ValueTheMeal.org, which has the most up to date draft of the rules.

Another difference between the two states and their menu regulations is that Massachusetts will not override rules in cities that impose stricter labeling rules at fast-food restaurants. In California, as an example, menu labeling rules passed in San Francisco, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties were dubbed null and void by the state law.

But what about the rights of the restaurants and their owners? Indeed, some restaurant companies have objected to additional government regulations. In New York City, Fox News pointed out, some have fought against the menu labeling rules with lawsuits. Other chains instead support what is known as the “Lean Act,” which would require restaurants and grocery stores that serve prepared food to post calorie counts on menus, menu boards or in other similar ways.

This proposed legislation sounds great, right? But what if the restaurants or grocery stores put that information on the back of a menu or in some place that people wouldn’t normally look? Information like that is easily hidden. With more and more people dining out these days, it’s important that this information is easily accessible and easily visible to consumers.

With obesity in this country busting with our growing pant sizes, a real obesity epidemic, regulations like those imposed in California and those about to be released in Massachusetts could certainly help us cut calories. It’s one thing not knowing about what that Quarter Pounder with cheese really has in it before you discover it’s actually 510 calories, 210 of those from fat, 1.5 grams of trans fat… Certainly, that would deter most people, and that’s not even considering the often accompanying regular French fry at 380 calories or the medium Coke at 210 calories. (This is all thanks to the nutrition facts McDonald’s has made available online. Not a very happy place for those Mickey Dee’s lovers out there.)

The only other point I have to add is that, sadly, the combination of rising food prices and a crumbling U.S. economy doesn’t help the fact that most fast food, such as with McDonald’s Dollar Menu, and most unhealthy food in general, is often the cheapest food to purchase. It could be argued that many families, with the current situation, are forced into eating unhealthy food choices like fast food items.