ON THE MENU: Dunkin’ and other chains may have to post calorie information.

ON THE MENU: Dunkin’ and other chains may have to post calorie information.

Massachusetts is poised to become the second state to require restaurant chains to post calorie counts alongside each menu item.

The state Public Health Council will vote today on the proposed regulations, which would affect some 5,800 Massachusetts eateries and have been opposed by restaurant and retail trade groups.

If approved, chains with 20 or more Massachusetts locations – such as Ninety Nine Restaurants, Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s and Burger King – would be required to post calorie counts for all food items on menus and menu boards by Nov. 1, 2010.

California set a 2011 compliance deadline for similar rules approved last fall. New York City started enforcing a measure in July.

The regulations are part of the Bay State’s Mass in Motion initiative to promote wellness, according to Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach.

More than half of adults and 25 percent of high school students in Massachusetts are overweight or obese, according to the Department of Public Health. Those health problems cost the state an estimated $1.8 billion in 2003.

The proposed regulations grant some concessions to the restaurant industry. Originally, they would have applied to chains with 15 or more in-state locations. The state also agreed to extend the date by which they take effect.

But the industry prefers the federal Labeling Education and Nutrition Act introduced in Congress last month. Those proposed nationwide rules give greater leeway for posting calorie counts, allowing them on signs on the same wall as a menu board, for example, or as an insert in a menu.

“When you’re a multi-unit company, what you really need is conformity for compliance,” said Peter Christie, CEO of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association.

The proposed Massachusetts regulations would be costly for chains, requiring them to produce new menu boards and in some cases get zoning board approval for drive-thru menus, he said.

Boston Herald