updated 12/18/2008 3:16:04 PM ET 2008-12-18T20:16:04

The city that invented that monument to gluttony, the cheesesteak, is ordering something new for the menu: one of the strongest restaurant labeling laws in the nation.

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Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter on Thursday signed a bill that orders most chain restaurants to display calorie, fat and other information.

Nutter signed the bill at the Center for Obesity Research Education at Temple University.

Gary Foster, the center's director, spoke in favor of it before its 12-5 passage by City Council last month. Some people don't want to face reality while dining out, but, for many, that information "might be very valuable," Foster said this week.

The law takes effect on Jan. 1, 2010, and follows similar legislation in New York City, California and elsewhere.

The Philadelphia ordinance applies to restaurant chains — including coffee shops, ice cream parlors and convenience stores — with a total of 15 or more stores, whether in the city or elsewhere. It will require their outlets in the city to tell customers about calories, saturated fat, trans fat, carbohydrates and sodium.

Because it covers more items and has fewer exemptions, it is stronger than laws passed in other places so far, according to Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Fake health foods"This is one of the few places in people's diets where in a split-second decision they can save hundreds, even thousands, of calories," Wootan said.

Wawa Inc., a regional convenience store chain, will post the information on in-store menus, and perhaps even on the touch screens customers use to place their orders.

"The advantage of getting it on the screen is people could add up all those (sandwich) components," spokeswoman Lori Bruce said.

‘Read them if you want’
Most of the city's famed cheesesteak joints are standalone shops or small chains and won't be subject to the labeling requirements.

But cheesesteak fans who go to Quiznos, for example, will learn the ugly truth: According to its Web site, a large cheesesteak — prime rib, Swiss cheese, sauteed onions and mayonnaise on bread — has 910 calories, 32 grams of fat and 2,400 milligrams of sodium. The company notes that it has several small sandwiches with less than 500 calories.

Ray Wallen, 58, of Philadelphia, has lost nearly 70 pounds this year through the Temple obesity program. His Type 2 diabetes is now "almost nonexistent" and his high blood pressure has moderated.

Wallen equates the nutrition labels to the health warnings on cigarettes.

"You can read them if you want, you can ignore them or not," Wallen said. "But it will be nice to have."

But Chris Coloracci, 46, thinks the city should keep out of the kitchen. Coloracci debated the new law with a co-worker Wednesday as he left a downtown deli.

"People will turn around and blame the restaurants for serving crap that they shouldn't be eating," he said. "It will be like any other government thing that will be more expensive than it's worth."

Philadelphia, once labeled the fattest city in the land by Men's Fitness magazine, is known for its love of unhealthy foods. Along with cheesesteaks and salt-laden soft pretzels, it has come to embrace an extreme chicken-wing-eating contest known as Wing Bowl. Upwards of 20,000 spectators turn out for the midwinter food orgy.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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