Counting UDS calories still tough

Proposals to post the calories in food on campus have stalled since fall.

Kyle Potter

The move to post calorie counts in residential dining halls and food courts on campus has made progress since the fall, but it will be some time before the number of calories in a Panda Bowl will be posted on the menu board.
The Student Health Advisory Committee has been working with University Dining Services over the past months to perfect a way of posting calorie labels for all menu items in an effort to improve student nutrition.
UDS and other stakeholders around the University of Minnesota have been listening, but there are still significant kinks to work out before calorie counting becomes easier.
Representatives from SHAC and UDS met with the University SenateâÄôs Social Concerns Committee on Monday to talk about how to implement the resolution. SHAC proposed a test run of calorie labeling at Comstock Hall.
The committee didnâÄôt put the measure to a vote for support or add it to its next agenda, but most members expressed some enthusiasm for the project.
âÄúWe are quite supportive of SHACâÄôs work and its intent. That said, we believe they have some details to work through before we would endorse it,âÄù Chairman Timothy Sheldon said.
Among those concerns were how SHAC would measure the success of a trial at Comstock, what the costs would be and who would oversee the nutritional labeling.
It is ultimately UDSâÄôs decision whether to implement a calorie-labeling system in dorms and campus restaurants.
Though it didnâÄôt reject the idea of labeling menu items, UDS representatives questioned how effective such a system would be.
âÄúIâÄôm not opposed to posting caloric information on menu boards,âÄù UDS Director Karen DeVet said. âÄúWe have just not been convinced thatâÄôs really what our consumers want to see, or that it will have significant impact over what weâÄôre doing.âÄù
The costs involved in displaying calorie information would be limited to printing and posting the labels, DeVet said. UDS already has the calorie information for residential dining halls calculated and stored in its online NetNutrition service, which students can use to count calories after dinner or to plan meals in advance with food allergies in mind.
UDS plans to expand its online nutrition program to cover all retail restaurants, like those in the Coffman Union basement, UDS dietitian Jenna Brott said.
On top of the NetNutrition system, UDS has nutritional brochures on the counters of all but two restaurants in Coffman. Only Einstein Bros. Bagels and Panda Express donâÄôt have the brochures.
âÄúSHAC is concerned about the rising obesity rates and the eating habits that students have here at the U of M,âÄù SHAC member Annmarie Bodnia said. Posting calorie information on the menus would help students make better diet decisions, Bodnia said.
The percentage of University students who were overweight, obese or extremely obese was 31.1 percent in 2010, according to a survey from Boynton Health Service âÄî 2 percent higher than in 2007.
SHAC began discussing the idea of posting calorie information at the point of purchase last March and voted to support a resolution in April, according to the groupâÄôs archived meeting minutes.
The discussion was triggered by the passing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a provision of which requires chain restaurants with more than 20 locations to post calorie information with their menu items.
Since then, SHAC has been fishing for the support of other campus organizations. Most recently, the Residential Housing Association âÄî which represents the dormitories and University-run apartment buildings âÄî pledged its support in mid-February.
ItâÄôs not a matter of forcing UDS to post calorie counts but rather encouraging and working with them to do so. Proposals like these take time, SHAC adviser Dave Golden said.
âÄúAt any point in time, itâÄôs UDSâÄôs decision,âÄù Golden said. âÄúItâÄôs just a matter of conveying that thereâÄôs a lot of support for it out there on campus.âÄù
Social Concerns Committee member Lisa Pogoff wondered aloud at the meeting whether students would keep the calorie postings in mind when choosing their meals.
âÄúIf I want a Big Mac, I want a Big Mac,âÄù Pogoff said. âÄúIâÄôm not going to see how many calories it is, because I donâÄôt want to know that.âÄù