Filed Under: Food Police

Menu Labeling Doesn’t Work? Who Cares? Pass It Anyways

For the umpteenth time, here’s evidence that labeling menus with calorie counts won't do anything to curb obesity:

Menus listing calorie counts at Taco Time restaurants in Seattle didn’t change customers’ eating habits, according to a study that calls into question plans to implement similar laws across the U.S.

More than a year after a local law took effect, total sales and average calories per transaction at Taco Time restaurants in King County, Washington — which includes Seattle — were identical to those at restaurants where the laws didn’t apply, researchers from the Duke-National University of Singapore Graduate Medical School found.

Of course none of this research really matters at this point, since Congress passed a health care bill mandating menu labeling in all chain restaurants last year. But even before it was law, the science was in.

A study from researchers at New York University and Yale University compared restaurants in lower-class neighborhoods in New York (where labeling is mandated) and New Jersey (where it's not). The researchers found that consumers' choices were unaffected by the posted calorie counts. Another study from the University of Washington found that parents who saw the labeling ordered slightly fewer calories for their children, but not for themselves.

The best way to look at these results is in the context of a 2008 study by economists at UC Berkeley and Northwestern University. Their research found no causal link between restaurants and obesity. How can this be possible? Because people who eat out tend to decrease their caloric intake at other meals to compensate. (It seems that consumers aren't blithering morons and can plan rationally without the hand of the government.) Adjusting for this, the researchers found that eating out only adds an average of 24 calories to a person’s daily intake.

And yet restaurants with more than 20 locations will be forced to display menu labels this year. Why implement such an ineffective policy? As professional obesity hysterics Kelly Brownell and David Ludwig wrote on the subject in 2009, “For some of the most important public health problems today, society does not have the luxury to await scientific certainty.” In other words, it doesn't matter if menu labeling doesn't work. Something needs to be done to save us from ourselves.

Since it won't help fight obesity, menu labeling may be nothing more than a form of harassment and an economic burden to restaurants that serve tasty food. Then again, maybe that was the whole idea in the first place.

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