People might see more numbers on the menu when they eat out in Prince George’s if the county passes a law requiring chain restaurants to list calorie contents next to items on all their menus.
Restaurants with five or more locations in the county would have to list calorie and salt content for “permanent” menu items — those offered for at least 30 days a year — or face a $100 fine, according to the bill, CB-74-2013, that County Councilman Eric C. Olson introduced Sept. 17.
“Over 70 percent of restaurants in Prince George’s are fast-food restaurants so this will capture the vast majority of restaurants in the county,” said Olson (D-Dist. 3) of College Park.
The bill is in response to the county’s disproportionately higher diabetes and obesity rates — the highest in the state — and is part of the 2010-2014 health improvement plan, a blueprint for making Prince George’s healthier, Olson said.
The bill will affect a lot of fast-food restaurants, which Olson said are one of the primary sources of restaurant food in the county and he thinks that will help residents make healthier decisions.
About 71 percent of Prince George’s County residents are obese or overweight, according to the county health department.
Sharon Dent, 51, of Beltsville said the law would fit today’s health-conscious lifestyles.
“People are going to the gym, dieting, using Weight Watchers ... you need to be able to count calories,” Dent said.
TGI Fridays, a national restaurant chain with five Prince George’s locations currently has menu items featuring dishes under 700 calories, said Tierney Evans, service manager at Laurel’s TGI Fridays.
Active adult men and women should have a daily calorie intake between 2,000 to 2,800 calories depending on level of activity, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“We don’t get a lot of people asking [for calorie information],” she said. “When people go out to eat, they want to spend their money and not worry about calories. They want to relax when they go out.”
Steffanie Jackson of Upper Marlboro has three children, and she said having calories on menus helps her make appropriate decisions for her family.
“It’s one of the most responsible things [restaurants] can do,” Jackson said. “This helps me make better choices.”
Under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, restaurants with 20 or more locations in the United States must disclose calories on menus, but the regulation is not in effect yet. There is no specific date that it will be finalized, said Shelly Burgess, U.S. Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman.
The County Council’s health, education and human services committee will meet by the end of the month to discuss the bill and send its opinion back to the council, which will then take the final vote, Olson said.
Olson said he chose five restaurants instead of 20 because that would capture the majority of county restaurants without negatively impacting smaller businesses. Many fast-food chains, the largest being McDonald’s, started posting calories on their menus ahead of the federal regulation.
Montgomery County passed a similar menu-label law in 2009, Olson said.
“It’s consumer information and what people do with that information is up to them,” Olson said. “Personally, I think you have a right to know what you’re buying.”
Some residents said listing calories wouldn’t make them think more before they order.
“It wouldn’t change my order. I get what I want,” said Maurice Jones, 27, of Beltsville. “I figure I’m young, I’ll burn it off.”
Staff Writer Chase Cook contributed to this report.