Anticipating new federal menu-labeling regulations that are part of congressional efforts to overhaul the nation’s health care system, Metro’s health director is expected to recommend deferring the implementation of similar standards the Metro Board of Health approved just last spring.
The six-member health board — in an attempt to address Nashville’s obesity epidemic — voted in March to mandate all Davidson County restaurants with 15 or more establishments post calorie information on menus, menu boards and food tags. The board defined “menu item” as any individual food or drink item, or combination of food or drink items, sold by a restaurant.
After overcoming separate attempts to thwart the new law from both Metro Council members and state lawmakers, the menu-labeling regulations were scheduled to go in effect March 31 of this year.
But buried inside recently approved U.S. House and Senate health reform bills are national mandates to require restaurants with 20 or more establishments post menu content information, a condition that’s comparable to Metro’s version.
Given the similar provisions, Metro Health Department Director Dr. Bill Paul said Metro should avoid forcing the restaurant industry to revise standards twice, and will therefore recommend the board defer implementing the menu-regulations at this Thursday’s meeting so they can become accordant with federal law.
“We don’t want to make people implement two different ways,” Paul said. “We’re really happy to see that consumers will have this information and be able to make informed decisions on what they’re putting into their bodies.
“What we thought the board might want to consider is giving that process a little bit of time so that if we implement locally, we’re implementing in a way that’s not different than a national standard that’s going to be coming out pretty soon,” he said.
One consideration the health board will probably need to look at, he said, is when chain restaurants would be required to actually implement the new federal menu-labeling regulations.
“If it really looks like four years before anything’s going to happen on a national level, the board may want to push for the implementation of something that looks very much like it at a local level,” Paul said.