Caloric Controversy: Theater Owners Fight to Keep Popcorn Counts in the Dark

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Group of teenagers (14-17) buying refreshments in cinema, smiling

Would you buy a tub of popcorn at the movies if you knew you’d be munching on more than 1400 calories? Movie theaters bet you wouldn’t.  That’s why the National Association for Theatre Owners is lobbying the Food and Drug Association against introducing food labels at their concession stands.

(More on TIME.com: See pictures of what makes you eat more)

It all boils down to a provision in the federal health care law that says restaurant chains with at least 20 U.S. locations must provide the calorie content of menu items. Though it was initially intended for only restaurants, the law is about to include grocery stores and concession stands–a move that theater operators aren’t happy about. In the wake of soaring national obesity rates, it’s not surprising lawmakers are flirting with the idea.

But the movie theater industry argues they are “just concession stands,” so why should they have to exhibit what’s in their food? “We’re not restaurants where people go to eat and satisfy themselves,” Gary Klein, general counsel of the National Association. of Theatre Owners, told the LA Times. “The average person goes to the theater four times a year,” Klein said. “I don’t think they care.” Whether they care or not, isn’t the average person in the U.S. also overweight? Whether it is a movie theater or a restaurant seems irrelevant when one bag of popcorn could add up to three big Macs in one sitting.

This isn’t the first time the theater industry has been put into the spotlight for selling fatty popcorn. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has been waging an awareness war on the evils of popcorn for some time. But perhaps this law is a blessing in disguise. If logic prevails, surely less consumption of fatty foods means less heart attacks and more people buying tickets to see their favorite flicks.

But because it’s quick, easy and cheaply made, popcorn delivers hefty profits for movie theaters. Selling popcorn, sodas and other snacks makes up to one-third of their revenue. That makes sense when you realize it costs only 0.15 to 0.20 cents for every $6 bucket sold at concession stands.

If a recent study is anything to go by, theater owners can relax.  According to the American Journal for Preventive Medicine, findings showed that posting fat and salt contents for one fast food chain had no effect on choice. People still ordered artery-clogging tacos and sugary sodas. So no matter what Washington decides, consumer behavior probably won’t change whether they make them add food labels or not. (via LA Times)

(More on TIME.com: Is ‘healthy’ fast food for real?)

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