Fed court upholds New York City's calorie-posting rule

City officials and physicians promoted the regulation as an important step in fighting obesity. Other states and localities have since followed suit.

By Amy Lynn Sorrel — Posted March 9, 2009

Print  |   Email  |   Respond  |   Reprints  |   Like Facebook  |   Share Twitter  |   Tweet Linkedin

In a victory for public health, a federal appeals court upheld a New York City ordinance requiring certain fast-food restaurant chains to post calorie counts on their menus and menu boards.

A panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Feb. 17 unanimously rejected protests from the restaurant industry that the city rule -- believed to be the first of its kind -- was pre-empted by federal regulations set by the Food and Drug Administration. Although restaurant food is exempt from federal nutritional labeling requirements, New York City, with its calorie-posting rule, "merely stepped into a sphere ... left open to state and local governments" to regulate public health and safety, Judge Rosemary S. Pooler wrote.

Judges also disagreed with the argument that the ordinance violated restaurants' free-speech rights, saying "the law in question mandates a simple factual disclosure of caloric information and is reasonably related to New York City's goals of combating obesity."

Physicians had urged the court to uphold the rule in a friend-of-the-court brief filed by the Medical Society of the State of New York, Litigation Center of the American Medical Association and State Medical Societies, and several other medical and public health groups. City officials said the decision will help encourage healthier lifestyles and set an example for other localities to follow.

"Consumers are learning more about the food before they order, and the market for healthier alternatives is growing," Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH, commissioner of New York City's Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene, said in a statement.

Most restaurant chains have complied since enforcement began July 19, 2008, he said. The rule requires chain restaurants with 15 or more establishments nationally to prominently display calorie content on menus and menu boards. Fines for noncompliance range from $200 to $2,000 per violation.

Restaurants weigh appeal

The New York State Restaurant Assn., which challenged the ordinance, is considering its appeal options, which include a rehearing by the full 2nd Circuit or an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. President and CEO Rick J. Sampson said the association had hoped city officials would work with restaurants to implement a less costly and burdensome measure.

California, Philadelphia and Seattle have passed similar menu labeling requirements, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nutrition and food safety advocacy group. Other states and localities are considering similar bills.

The AMA in 2007 adopted several policies aimed at helping to reduce obesity, such as encouraging fast-food and chain restaurants to provide consumers with nutritional information for menu items, including calorie, fat, saturated fat, trans fat and sodium content. The AMA also supports the replacement of trans fats with healthier alternatives, and tailoring state and federal food assistance programs to meet recipients' health needs.

Back to top

External links

Center for Science in the Public Interest on menu labeling (link)

Back to top



Read story

Confronting bias against obese patients

Medical educators are starting to raise awareness about how weight-related stigma can impair patient-physician communication and the treatment of obesity. Read story

Read story


American Medical News is ceasing publication after 55 years of serving physicians by keeping them informed of their rapidly changing profession. Read story

Read story

Policing medical practice employees after work

Doctors can try to regulate staff actions outside the office, but they must watch what they try to stamp out and how they do it. Read story

Read story

Diabetes prevention: Set on a course for lifestyle change

The YMCA's evidence-based program is helping prediabetic patients eat right, get active and lose weight. Read story

Read story

Medicaid's muddled preventive care picture

The health system reform law promises no-cost coverage of a lengthy list of screenings and other prevention services, but some beneficiaries still might miss out. Read story

Read story

How to get tax breaks for your medical practice

Federal, state and local governments offer doctors incentives because practices are recognized as economic engines. But physicians must know how and where to find them. Read story

Read story

Advance pay ACOs: A down payment on Medicare's future

Accountable care organizations that pay doctors up-front bring practice improvements, but it's unclear yet if program actuaries will see a return on investment. Read story

Read story

Physician liability: Your team, your legal risk

When health care team members drop the ball, it's often doctors who end up in court. How can physicians improve such care and avoid risks? Read story

  • Stay informed
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • RSS
  • LinkedIn