CHICAGO — Reducing trans fat and adding nutritional information to menu boards at restaurants were among the policies adopted by the American Medical Association (A.M.A.) last week at its annual meeting. The association hopes the moves will help address rising obesity rates among Americans.
"Making wise food choices and increasing physical activity can benefit everyone," said Joseph P. Annis, M.D., A.M.A. board member. "We hope these new policies will lead to necessary changes within the food industry to make food and beverages healthier for consumers."
The A.M.A. said it has put in place new policy to help reduce trans fat in the American diet as a way to maintain good health and lower the risk for coronary artery disease. As part of its effort, the A.M.A. said it would work to ensure that when trans fat is removed from foods, it is replaced with healthier fats and oils. The association said it would add language to its policies on nutrition to encourage and promote the reduction of trans fat in the American diet in order to maintain good health and lower the incidence of coronary artery disease.
"Replacing trans fats with healthier fats and oils, such as extra virgin olive oil, can prevent approximately 30,000 to 100,000 premature deaths a year," Dr. Annis said.
The A.M.A. also voted to recommend fast-food and chain restaurants with 10 or more units provide consumers with nutritional information on menus and menu boards. According to the A.M.A., the nutritional information should be easy to understand and include calorie, fat, saturated fat, trans fat and sodium content of menu items. The policy recognizes that menu boards have limited space, and recommends that at a minimum menu boards should include calorie counts.
The newly adopted policy also recommends that the A.M.A. urge federal, state and local health agencies and organizations, physicians and other health professionals to educate consumers on how to use nutrition information in restaurants to make healthier choices. The association would also like to see restaurants reduce calorie content, offer smaller portions as well as more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, use less sodium, use cooking fats lower in saturated and trans fat and use less added sugars and sweeteners.
The recommendation is timely given New York City’s plan to require certain fast-food and chain restaurants to disclose nutritional content on menu boards beginning July 1.
"By calling on fast-food and chain restaurants to provide information on the nutritional quality of food products and menu offerings and encouraging healthier food choices, we hope to improve the diets and health of Americans," Dr. Annis said.
The A.M.A. said almost one-third of children and two-thirds of adults are either overweight or obese. Additionally, the association cited studies saying Americans eat out twice as much as in 1970 and are consuming one-third of calories away from home.
The association noted 44% of large chain restaurants provide nutrition information to consumers for the majority of menu items. Those that do provide this information usually post it on web sites, brochures or posters where it might be hard to read or access when choosing foods. The A.M.A. said two-thirds of Americans support requiring restaurants to provide nutrition information on menus.
The association also passed new policy that supports efforts to base federal and state food assistance programs on the health needs of their recipients by providing increased access to fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other healthy foods. The A.M.A. said it also would work to ensure food assistance programs encourage the consumption of products low in fat and cholesterol.
"Tailoring items in food assistance programs to better meet the health care needs of Americans can help decrease the risk of diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, and help Americans lead healthier lives," Dr. Annis said.