May 4th, 2010 5:33 pm | by JAMES PITKIN News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP, Multnomah County

Oregon Kids are America's Unfattest, Even Without Menu Labels

Menu Labeling

The big news today about Oregon is everywhere: we have the lowest rate of childhood obesity in the country.

True — in super-sized America, that distinction is kind of like winning an IQ contest at a Tea Party rally. But still, it beats placing near the top of the unemployment listings.

The news reminded us of a story we covered a few years back about Multnomah County's efforts to require calorie counts on chain-restaurant menus. The rule eventually passed the county commission, but not without months of restaurant lobbying and some opposition on the board.

The rules to prevent obesity and other chronic health problems were supposed to go into effect by the end of 2009, in all restaurants and coffee shops that have 15 or more stores nationwide. Five months later, you might wonder whatever happened.

Here's the explanation from Karol Collymore, spokeswoman for county Chair Jeff Cogen, who pushed for the calorie-count rules when he was a county commissioner.

(Collymore is now running for Cogen's old commission seat, while Cogen seeks election to a four-year term as county chair.)

As Collymore tells it, the story visually looks something like this.

First, the county requirements were pre-empted by the state Legislature, which passed its own calorie-count bill in the 2009 session. The state's rules were supposed to take effect in January 2011.

But now even that won't happen, because the health-care bill passed by Congress this year includes its own calorie-count provision. The federal rule is very similar the county rule, Collymore says, except it applies to all restaurants with 20 locations nationwide instead of 15.

"If the county had been allowed to act, (calorie counts) would have been on menus now, and we would not have been affected by the feds," Collymore says. "In that sense, it's a little disappointing. But the greater good is that now all states have the power to have calories on their menus."

But Mississippi will have to wait.

"Exactly when consumers will see that information is unclear," The New York Times reports. "The legislation requires the Food and Drug Administration to propose specific regulations no later than a year from now, but completing the rules could take longer. If a legal battle ensues, as often happens with new federal regulations, the effective date could conceivably be years away."
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