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Get ready for calorie counts in restaurants, pizza parlors, and movie theaters across the country

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The FDA will announce new menu-labelling rules today


The US Food and Drug Administration announced new rules today that will oblige movie theaters, pizza parlors, and chain restaurants across the US to post calorie counts next to food items on their menus, reports The New York Times. The rules, which will take effect in a year, will also require that restaurants display the caloric content of pre-packaged alcoholic beverages like beer and wine.

"one of the most important public health nutrition policies ever to be passed."

About a third of what Americans consume comes from outside their homes, so the new rules are expected to have large implications for public health. "This is one of the most important public health nutrition policies ever to be passed nationally," Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told The New York Times.

The rules won't affect all chain restaurants, however. Chains that have less than 20 outlets will be allowed to forgo the calorie counts. And mixed drinks — alcoholic beverages that often vary in content depending on the bartender —  will be spared as well. But large grocery store chains that sell prepared foods like sushi or sandwiches intended to feed one person will need to implement menu labelling. And vending machine operators will also need to comply — calorie counts will have to be displayed on stickers or placards near selection buttons — although the FDA has said that it will give them an extra year to do so.

"We are disappointed that the FDA’s final rules will capture grocery stores, and impose such a large and costly regulatory burden on our members," the National Grovers Association told The New York Times.

The FDA's new rules have been floating around for three years now, following the signing of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. The statute includes menu labelling regulations, but opposition from pizza parlors and movie theaters created large delays, as critics maintained that the law was only meant to apply to restaurants. "No reasonable person is about to confuse a grocery store, convenience store or movie theater with a restaurant," Daren Bakst, a Heritage Foundation research fellow, told The New York Times.

Now that the FDA has released the final rules, these criticisms are bound intensify. Still, many are rejoicing. "Right now, you are totally guessing at what you are getting," Wootan said. "This rule will change that."