Priority Policy

Menu Labeling

Empowering consumers with the information they need to make healthier choices

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) required chain restaurants and similar food retail establishments with at least 20 locations nationwide to post calorie information on their menus and menu boards, and provide additional nutrition information like saturated fat and added sugars to customers upon request. The Food and Drug Administration’s rules that enforce this provision of the ACA, which took effect in 2018, apply to a wide variety of locations, such as supermarkets, convenience stores, delis, movie theaters and stadiums. Retailers with fewer than 20 locations are not required to abide by these rules, though they may do so voluntarily.

Research compiled in What Works for Health, part of the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps program, shows the benefits of restaurant menu labeling include increased awareness of, and a reduction in, calories purchased, as well as reduced caloric intake and reduced portion sizes. According to an FDA regulatory impact analysis, the menu labeling policy will provide a total net savings of $8 billion over 20 years.


The following recommendations regarding menu labeling come from  State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America, 2018 produced by Trust for America’s Health and RWJF.

• The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should: Ensure full compliance with recently implemented menu labeling rules covering chain restaurants and similar food retail establishments; and encourage non-chain restaurants to implement the menu labeling rules voluntarily.

• Restaurants should incorporate more fruits and vegetables into menus and make healthy beverages and sides the default option in all meals.

• Non-chain restaurants should voluntarily abide by the FDA’s new menu labeling rules.

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Menu labels can help people choose fewer calories

RWJF’s Healthy Eating Research program examined the impact that a menu labeling policy in Seattle/King County had on calories purchased from a select group of chain restaurants. The study found that adults and teens who used the information purchased up to 143 fewer calories compared to customers who did not, and a follow-up study found that the percentage of adults who saw and used calorie information had tripled two years after implementation.

Fast Facts


Americans consume about one-third of daily calories on food prepared away from home.

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The menu labeling rules apply to approximately 300,000 food retail establishments nationwide.

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Menu labeling in restaurants alone could prevent up to 41,000 cases of childhood obesity and save over $4.6 billion in health care costs over ten years.

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Originally posted in August 2018.