The changes set in motion by this crusader for healthier food continue to influence restaurant menus.Until he ran New York City’s health department, agencies of that sort were primarily watchdogs checking for lapses in safety protocols. Frieden took a more proactive approach, using restaurants and their menus as tools for promoting public health. Arguably more than any other individual, Frieden established the notion that governments could bend restaurant operations to serve what officials deemed a higher public good.
At his urging, and without a law being passed, New York’s board of health mandated that chain restaurants in the city start posting nutritional information on menus as a way of curbing obesity. Similar requirements rolled westward, prompting the industry to eventually ask for a nationwide labeling requirement.
Similarly, the M.D. pushed through a ban on restaurants’ use of trans fats, again prompting widespread adoption.
His belief that menus should be shaped by social aims as well as business considerations is evident today in initiatives such as California’s recent ban on automatically offering a soda as part of a kids meal.
In 2009, Frieden assumed a high-level position with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and later headed an organization promoting cardiac health.