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The New Health Care Law Champions Good Nutrition
With the vote to overhaul the nation’s health care system came a few provisions to protect your nutritional health. Before this, it was not easy to acquire the nutritional acumen to help you help yourself. But now, nutrition information will be more accessible. It's been a long time coming.
Restaurateurs, fess up!
Many - even most - restaurant foods have an enormous number of calories. “Coffee drinks can range from 20 to 800 calories, and burgers can range from 250 calories to well over 1,000," obesity expert Dr. Mary Story told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. A study showed that 9 out of 10 people underestimated the number of calories of less healthy items by an average of more than 600 calories.
The new law mandates restaurants with 20 locations or more - and vending machines too - to post calorie counts alongside the menu item on paper menus, menu boards, and at drive-through windows. The National Restaurant Association supports the law over a mishmash of separate state laws. Exempt from the law are daily specials and limited-time menu items.
The Food and Drug Administration has until March 2011 to implement the new law. Calories will be disclosed for sure, but the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is still undecided about how to handle other nutrients, if at all. The terms and conditions for implementing the law will be published in the Federal Register before July 21, 2010. If you have comments to make to the government, that is the time to make them.
It's unclear what effect the labeling law will have, but a study in New York City where calorie counts are on the menu showed that fast-food customers who saw calorie information bought 52 fewer calories than those who didn’t see it. The assumption is that people often make healthier choices when given calorie information and people who value their health will choose the lower calorie items
Registered dietitians (RDs) play an important role in fitness, health, and nutritional treatment of diseases. Yet, their services were rarely covered by health insurers until now. Under the new law, medical nutrition therapy by RDs may be offered for free in a “Medical Home”.
The law contains extensive provisions to fund pilot programs to test Physician-Centered Medical Homes (PCMHs) where prevention is emphasized, patients are involved, and ancillary services are organized under a personal physician. To become a pilot PCMH, a program must show evidence that specific processes and policies are in place. If the pilot programs are successful, the Department of Health and Human Services is directed to expand PCMHs on a large scale bases.
In addition, expect to see more nutrition and wellness programs in the workplace. The new law allows employers to offer rewards to employees who participate in programs to lose weight, stop smoking and practice other healthy behaviors. A large number of grants will also be available to promote healthy behaviors in schools and communities.
The bottom line: Welcome to the era of personal responsibility. The system is changing from one that treats sickness to one that prevents it. The patient will be in the center. Expect more to be expected from you.
What do you think about the changes?
Read more about these concepts:
- Specifics of the Affordable Health Care for America Act from the Huffington Post.
- Menu Labeling in Chain Restaurants Opportunities for Public Policy from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Yale University.
- Patient-Centered Medical Homes from the American Academy of Family Physicians.