Donna Goodison of the Boston Herald reports that Massachusetts consumers ordering a Big Mac at McDonald’s or a glazed doughnut at Dunkin’ Donuts will be able to see how many calories they’re about to down in a little more than a year and a half from now.

The Massachusetts Public Health Council today approved new statewide regulations that will require restaurant chains with 20 or more in-state locations to post calorie counts next to each item on their menus or menu boards, including those at drive-thrus.

The calorie-labeling requirements, which will apply to some 50 restaurant chains with a combined 5,800 locations, take effect Nov. 1, 2010.
The measure is designed to help consumers make more informed choices about what they’re eating, according to Massachusetts Department of Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach. New York City, California and other jurisdictions have adopted similar laws.

“This is a major step in the right direction in fighting the obesity epidemic in our state,” Auerbach said in a statement. “With more than half of our adult population and one-third of our middle and high school students either overweight or obese, we need to do more to address this problem.”

The Department of Public Health, which originally proposed giving just six months for restaurants to comply with the new rules, instead decided on an 18-month implementation deadline. The restaurant chains are required to base the posted calorie counts on analyses done by nationally- or state-licensed nutritionists or dieticians.

The extended timeframe also will give the chains time to have their new menus and menu boards designed and produced.

Those costs will be borne by small business owners when it comes to Dunkin’ Donuts, whose stores are owned by franchisees, according to Jim Coen, president of the DD Independent Franchise Owners.

“In New York (City), it costs all franchise owners tens of thousands of dollars and some franchise owners hundreds of thousands,” Coen said.

The restaurant industry has been opposing calorie-count requirements instituted on state and local levels. Its support is behind the federal Labeling Education and Nutrition Act that was introduced in Congress last month, which it argues is more comprehensive.

Those regulations also would apply to chains with 20 or more locations, but would not require them to post the calorie counts next to each item on a menu or menu board. Instead, restaurants could post the calories on a sign on the same wall as a menu board or as a supplement to or insert in a menu.

But Corporate Accountability International, a Boston activist organization, praised the new state regulations.

“At a time when rates of childhood obesity and diet-related disease are soaring, fast food corporations should be providing accurate nutritional information about the content of their highly-profitable, yet largely unhealthy products,” Judy Grant, the organization’s Value (the) Meal campaign director, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the fast food industry is spending enormous sums to push weaker federal menu-labeling legislation that undermines Massachusetts’ advances.”

Boston Herald