empty movie theater with popcorn - popcorn caloriesIf you are drawn to stories about foods with outrageous amounts of unhealthy fats, you already know that movie popcorn is as bad as it gets. The Center for Science in the Public Interest regularly exposes fat and calorie numbers that have your eyes popping along with the kernels: a large popcorn from Regal Cinemas registered 1,200 calories and 60 grams of saturated fat, though the company claims far fewer of those calories and fat grams.

Now federal regulators might be passing requirements that movie theaters (along with the restaurant chains already in the law), concession stands and grocery stores selling prepared food provide calorie counts and other nutrition information. Movie theaters are highly displeased.At issue is not just the challenge businesses often raise when faced with labeling requirements -- the cost, the length of time it will take them to provide that information -- but the theater's artery-clogging, waist-expanding profit secret.

Anyone who's stood before a concession stand menu board and reached, reluctantly, for his wallet will tell you: the prices are outrageous. It can't possibly cost a theater even half that much for a tub of popcorn! Anyone who's sat in an analyst conference call with Regal Entertainment Group's CFO, David Ownby, will tell you it's much worse; a $6 bucket of popcorn costs the chain 15 or 20 cents (that's less than 4%, if you're counting).

Clearly, the chains could afford the terrible burden of estimating its popcorn and soda calorie counts. What they don't want is for consumers to have another reason to put their wallets back in their pockets when they see those daunting numbers on the menu board.

You may justify the large popcorn and 44-ounce soda to yourself: "it's only $10 and I hardly ever go out to the movies! I deserve this!" But the long-lasting effects of those 1,600 calories may be harder to justify (especially if you are adding up fat grams -- 60 grams of saturated fat is the daily recommended allowance for three days).

Fat and calories are not just one-time hits to your finances; they stick around. It may have been true all this time, but bringing it to the twinkling lights of a movie theater concession stand will surely change behavior and threaten the chains' cash cow.

You can tell by how much the theater groups doth protest. "The average person goes to the theater four times a year -- I don't think they care," says Gary Klein, general counsel of the National Association of Theatre Owners to the Los Angeles Times.

Not caring and not knowing may be linked inextricably here. Do you care? If you had a choice between $40 or $60 and 2,000-some calories in a movie theater; and $6 or $8 and 500-some calories at home; would you call the babysitter?

The theaters may want to keep the news restricted to sober times when you're surfing Aol or your favorite nutrition blog; but American consumers deserve to make entirely informed decisions at the giddy point of opening their pocketbooks. And my bet is that theaters would quickly reform the fat content of their popcorn buckets, if moviegoers were restricting their expenditures during their visits to the zero-calorie tickets.

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