CBS Touts FDA Taking On 'Caloric Catastrophe' of Movie Theater Popcorn

In a report for Thursday's CBS Early Show, contributor Taryn Winter Brill fretted over the impact of movie theater popcorn on Americans' waistlines: "Have you ever wondered how many calories you're actually consuming in that large popcorn with butter? You probably don't want to know. Pretty soon, though, you may not have a choice."

Moments later, nutritionist Katherine Brooking declared the popular concession treat to be "a calorie bomb waiting to explode." Brill then touted a government solution to the problem: "Hoping to defuse this high caloric catastrophe, the FDA is working on a provision in the health care law requiring chain establishments which serve food to list the calorie count of their menu items." She added that Brooking and others "applaud the move."

Near the end of her report, Brill explained that "Movie theater chains are pushing back, though, arguing the original health care bill was never intended to include them." She cheered how "Undeterred, the FDA is looking to sound the alarm on hidden calories. And ultimately shift Americans toward a healthier lifestyle."

Co-host Chris Wragge asked Brill about the movie theater industry's opposition to the new regulations: "Why are they so resistant?" Brill replied: "Well, it's all about money. Believe it or not these concession stand items, they generate one-third of the total revenue. So this is a significant number. Specifically popcorn.... they're thinking you put those calorie numbers up, those profits of popcorn sales, way down."

On March 15, Brill did a similar food police segment on breakfast cereal, claiming that cartoon "cereal offenders" on the boxes were "targeting" kids.

Here is a full transcript of Brill's March 24 Early Show segment:

8:00AM ET TEASE:

CHRIS WRAGGE: Also ahead here this morning, one of the joys of going to the movies is not just seeing great actors like Taylor and Burton. It is, of course, the popcorn.

ERICA HILL: And Twizzlers.

WRAGGE: Yes. Exactly. Now, the government is about to require theaters to tell you how many calories are in that bucket. And how much fat is in that bucket as well. And theater owners say that this is going to cost them money so they're trying to stop it. So we're going to look at the numbers and talk to some movie fans about it. See exactly what they think about this whole thing.

HILL: Of course it's not the money of actually putting up the information. It will be the money lost, perhaps, on popcorn sales.

WRAGGE: When you see how many calories there are in a large bucket if you put a little butter on, it's going to cause a number of people to say, 'Maybe I'll pass.'

HILL: Enjoy it while you can.

WRAGGE: Wait until you hear these numbers, really.

8:14AM ET TEASE:

HILL: Just ahead, from movie stars to movie popcorn. Theaters may soon have to tell you just how many calories, and oh, yes, grams of fat, are in those buckets with the imitation butter stuff on it. You're going to want to see what those numbers are.


8:17AM ET SEGMENT:

CHRIS WRAGGE: In this morning's 'Health Watch,' movies and popcorn. For many of us they go hand in hand, but now movie theater operators are protesting a new rule that could take a bite out of their profits. Early Show contributor Taryn Winter Brill is here with more on this for us this morning. Good morning.

TARYN WINTER BRILL: A big bite, Chris. Good morning to you. There's nothing like the smell of fresh popcorn as you walk into your local movie theater. But have you ever wondered how many calories you're actually consuming in that large popcorn with butter? You probably don't want to know. Pretty soon, though, you may not have a choice.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Now Showing: High Fat, Many Calories; Theater Owners Decry Proposed Popcorn Rule]

SONG: Let's go all to the lobby, let's all go to the lobby.

BRILL: Dinner and a movie is an institution as American as Hollywood itself. And nothing complements the latest blockbuster quite like a bag of freshly popped and oh, so buttery popcorn. You like movie theater popcorn?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I love movie theater popcorn. And the more butter the better.

BRILL: But movie-goers hungry for kernels of this seemingly light and fluffy snack may want to think twice before reaching into that bucket. Turns out a large buttered popcorn contains a gut busting 1,460 calories. The equivalent of nearly three Big Macs, and a full day's worth of eating.

KATHERINE BROOKING [CONTRIBUTOR, COOKING LIGHT]: If you're looking at a typical female who is not highly active, that's almost your total calorie intake for the day. Roughly,1600, 1800. So this is, you know, a calorie bomb waiting to explode.

BRILL: Hoping to defuse this high caloric catastrophe, the FDA is working on a provision in the health care law requiring chain establishments which serve food to list the calorie count of their menu items. Rules that already exist for restaurants such as Burger King, McDonald's, and Denny's. Nutritionists like Katherine Brooking applaud the move.

BROOKING: It's all about education for those people who are making efforts to be more healthful. This is great to have more transparency and more information.

BRILL: But will that knowledge convince cinema foodies to forego their favorite theater snack?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN B: Well, knowing that it's 1500 or 1400 calories, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN C: Wow. Wow that is a lot. So I should be staying away from the popcorn.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I don't think I'm going to order any more popcorn.

BRILL: No?

MAN: No, I'm going to order a granola bar.

BRILL: Some establishments already post nutritional information in accordance with city or state laws, and customers are responding.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN B: I was going to order the nachos with the cheese, but I noticed, since the calorie content is up on the board. I said no way, Jose.

BRILL: Too many calories?

MAN B: Too many calories for me, yeah.

BRILL: Movie theater chains are pushing back, though, arguing the original health care bill was never intended to include them. Gary Klein of the National Association of Theater Owners told the L.A. Times, 'It's dinner and a movie. Not dinner at a movie.' Undeterred, the FDA is looking to sound the alarm on hidden calories. And ultimately shift Americans toward a healthier lifestyle.

BROOKING: I would hope that the movie theaters offer not only plain popcorn, but other healthful snacks like having fresh fruit there. Having yogurt there. So this way the consumer can still go to the movies and have their popcorn, or they can have something that is not as high in calories.

BRILL: Dinner and a yogurt? Maybe. We reached out to the National Association of Theater Owners, as well as several movie theater chains. Many of them did not return our calls. Those who did, however, had no comment. The federal rules regarding these menu labeling guidelines have not yet taken effect, but could be announced any day now, Chris. So we will be watching closely, as will the theaters.

WRAGGE: Why are they so resistant?

BRILL: Well, it's all about money. Believe it or not these concession stand items, they generate one-third of the total revenue. So this is a significant number. Specifically popcorn. If you want to talk about the numbers, Chris. The CEO of Regal Entertainment Group, we all know that theater company, he says on average they sell this large bucket of popcorn for about $6. Take a guess at how much you think it costs them to actually make it.

WRAGGE: $1.20.

BRILL: Less. 15 to 20 cents. 15 to 20 cents. So talk about a profit margin. So they're thinking you put those calorie numbers up, those profits of popcorn sales, way down.

WRAGGE: I will say this. I was at a movie theater yesterday and I did just happen to look up and I saw Chicken McNuggets, 875 calories and then the sauces were about 200 each. Not that I was going to order them anyway, but it is a deterrent.

BRILL: Yes.

WRAGGE: Let's again, break it down, though. This large bucket of popcorn with butter the equivalent of three Big Macs.

BRILL: Yeah, three Big Macs,1460 calories. Okay, what would you rather have, by the way? Would you go for the Big Macs or the popcorn? Just curious, your preference?

WRAGGE: I would, you know what, knowing that that equivalent is the equivalent of that I would probably go for the hamburgers.

BRILL: Okay, I would too. Real quickly, you can get a Big Mac combo meal, medium fries, drink, and the Big Mac, it's 330 calories less than this popcorn. Can you believe it?

WRAGGE: Too much. Don't want to know about it. Taryn, thank you.

BRILL: Thanks.

WRAGGE: Good to see you.

— Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC