A retrospective look at the common sense nutrition disclosure act: Small business lifeline or an impediment to informed consumer decision making?

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As consumer lifestyles have changed over recent decades, people have increasingly turned to meals prepared away from home. A major consequence of this shift in eating patterns has been a concomitant rise in obesity rates worldwide. Research has consistently documented that consumers tend to make less healthy choices when purchasing prepared meals away from home. In part, this can be attributed to inadequate information at the time of purchase; both nutrition experts and lay consumers tend, for example, to underestimate calories in food purchased away from home and thus portion sizes tend to be larger. Thus, by requiring restaurants and other purveyors of prepared foods to provide the calorie content and other nutrition information at the point of purchase, consumers should be able to make more informed decisions and public health should be improved. The often maligned Affordable Care Act (i.e., “Obamacare”) addressed this issue in a mandate calling for compulsory nutrition labeling of prepared foods at the point of sale. In response to this effort, conservatives in Congress introduced the “Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act” (CSNDA) which, if enacted, would have effectively eviscerated the menu labeling provisions mandated by the Affordable Care Act. The stated rationale behind this legislation: to protect small business and prevent job loss resulting from overly-burdensome federal regulations. This article provides a historical look at the evolution of federally mandated menu labeling in the United States with particular emphasis on opposition to its passage. The position is taken such that this legislation is beneficial, warranted, and long overdue, and its opposition, as reflected in the CSNDA, points to the need for new metrics when evaluating public policy.

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Business and Society Review





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