updated 11/1/2006 9:43:24 AM ET 2006-11-01T14:43:24

Would you like that burger with a side of guilt?

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As part of its assault on obesity, New York City’s health department has a plan to require some restaurants to list the calorie content of their food on their menus.

If the rule is approved, the brightly lit menu boards that hang over the counter at McDonald’s might read something like this: Double cheeseburger, $1 ... 460 calories.

The rule would apply only to eateries that serve standardized portions and already disclose calorie information voluntarily — criteria that fit most fast-food chains, which frequently post nutritional charts on their Web sites or print them on fliers.

Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Frieden said diners deserve to know up front when a meal has the potential to pack on pounds.

But fast-food companies are assailing the proposal.

Cluttering menus with calorie counts for every possible meal combination will slow the food lines and take the fast out of fast food, warned Wendy’s executives.

“It will be impossible to decipher,” Wendy’s spokesman Denny Lynch said in a phone interview. “We aren’t going to help them (customers). We are going to confuse them.”

John Whipple, president of the National Council of Chain Restaurants, called the proposal costly and unconstitutional. He also said it would penalize eateries for providing nutritional information voluntarily.

“Restaurants should be encouraged in their health education efforts, not dissuaded from such effort by misplaced regulatory policies,” Whipple said in written testimony to the New York City Board of Health.

The city estimates that the rule would apply to about one in ten restaurants.

Metabolism calculatorCalorie counts indicate how much energy is in food. The more exercise a person gets, the more calories he or she needs. When people consume more calories than they burn, the body stores the extra energy as fat.

A 30-year-old woman who exercises fewer than 30 minutes a day needs about 1,800 calories daily, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Men of in that category need about 2,400 calories a day.

Many Americans eat many more calories than they burn.

The calorie labeling proposal has been overshadowed by a separate health department plan to ban restaurants from cooking with artificial trans fats , which the department calls “an unnecessary and dangerous ingredient” that causes heart disease.

The Board of Health is tentatively scheduled to vote on the calorie labeling proposal in December. If it is approved, the regulation would take effect in July.

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