NYC Menus Must Flag Super Salty Meals, Judge Rules

Unlike former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's attempt to limit soda portions, this rule gives consumers information and lets them make their own decisions. Such measures have had more support from the public and the courts.

Starting March 1, some of New York City’s saltiest restaurant meals must come with a warning label, a judge has ruled.

State Supreme Court Justice Eileen Rakower today upheld the city’s rule that chain restaurants must put a logo on menu items that exceed 2300 milligrams of sodium—equal to a teaspoon, or the recommended allowance for an entire day.

The daily amount is called for the National Academy of Medicine and was recently included in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene can impose fines of $600 a day on restaurants that fail to put a salt shaker icon on menu icons that exceed the daily limit.

The National Restaurant Association sued to block the rule in December, hoping to the courts would once again halt a city-based health measure. Courts famously denied former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s quest to limit the size of sugar-sweetened beverages, an effort that was lampooned by comedians and some fellow politicians.

But courts have upheld efforts aimed at giving consumers information and letting them make their own judgment. An earlier effort that required chain restaurants to put calorie counts on menus survived.

The salt shaker icon will alert diners who may be limiting their sodium intake due to heart conditions or diabetes on a physician’s advice. The Center for Science in the Public Interest hailed today’s decision.

“New Yorkers won an important victory today for their health,” said CSPI President Michael F. Jacobson. The rule that will soon take effect “may well lessen the burden of heart disease and stroke, especially for minority populations who suffer disproportionately from those illnesses.”

Jacobson said the science on sodium is clear. “Eating less salt reduces the risk of high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease and stroke. Allowing diners to make an informed decision by telling them which dishes have 2300 or more milligrams of sodium … is a modest and reasonable public health intervention.”

More studies are being done on the value of giving consumers information, with the hope that they will make healthier food and beverage choices. Bloomberg’s attempt to limit soda portions and other attempts at soda taxes show these are opposed vociferously by industry and even some consumers, who view them as a limit on personal freedom.

By contrast, a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics found that warning labels might change parents’ buying behavior toward soda—and the study found that warning labels were highly preferable to taxes or other limits.

“We hope that other local and state governments will follow New York City’s lead and both provide their citizens this basic and potentially life-saving information and encourage restaurants to use less salt,” Jacobson said.