Why I pushed for fast-food calorie counts

February 21, 2008 

For me, this is personal.

Eight years ago, before I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, I was a reckless eater. I loved burgers and fries and strawberry shakes. But then, like now, I was also a runner whose weight would often creep upwards. So sometimes I’d pass on the fries to ease back on the calories.

What I didn’t know until recently—and what millions of fast-food eaters still don’t know—is that my cherished shake packed more calories than the burger and fries combined, a whopping 1,000-plus. How could I know? While the menus had plenty of enticing pictures of cheese-smothered burgers, there wasn’t a word about calories, fat or sugar.

These days, my very life depends on knowing more about what I eat than how it tastes. I’ve completely changed my eating habits and probably given myself an extra 20 years. But that kind of dietary diligence doesn’t come easy—an unacceptable reality especially given the alarming rise of obesity among our young people.

That’s why my colleague, Michael D. Antonovich, and I are sponsoring a proposed ordinance that would mandate menu labeling for fast food and chain restaurants in Los Angeles County. Scheduled for a Tuesday vote at the Board of Supervisors, the measure would, among other things, require these establishments to post calorie counts on menu boards at a customer’s point of purchase.

This is not about trying to fry the business of fast-food joints. The truth is you can make as much money selling healthy food as you can junk food, as McDonald’s learned in New York, where a similar ordinance exists. I just want you to be able to make an informed decision so you can live a longer and healthier life.

I first went public about my diabetes on Christmas Eve, 2001, in a column by Steve Lopez of the L.A. Times. Given my visibility, I thought I might be able to inspire those of you struggling with the same, sometimes lonely challenges that I now faced. Since then, I’ve had more sustained reaction to this facet of my public life than any other. Recently, when The Times health section featured me in a story on diet and exercise, the response again was overwhelming.

So I know, from my own experience, that many of you are hungry for ways to live healthier and want information to help you make choices.

For me, this may mean logging my weight every day for the past eight years or running a couple extra miles on the morning after my traditional birthday dinner at Lawry’s. For you, it may mean simply saying no to a milk shake. Whatever the case, you need to know the facts.

Posted 2/21/08

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