The Food and Drug Administration’s broad new menu-labeling rules will force restaurants, movie theaters, and grocery stores to add calorie information to the food they sell. The FDA’s action is based on a provision of the Affordable Care Act mandating more nutritional labeling, which is part of a federal plan to control the obesity epidemic in this country.
This new information, which few consumers will pay any attention to, will cost the affected industries $1.9 billion. Of course, the extra cost for all this new information, which few except Washington bureaucrats are really interested in, will be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.
FDA officials opine that the new requirements will “help consumers make informed choices for themselves and their families,” and thus will lead to healthier nutrition. That’s a laudable plan, but I just don’t think it’s worth much.
When Charlie orders that jumbo pizza “with the works” for the Monday Night Football broadcast, I doubt he’s going to send it back when the pizza box tells him it weighs in at a whopping 4500 calories. Nor do I think the calorie count on that twelve pack of beer will deter him in the slightest from his evening party plans.
Similarly, I suspect that Sally and Tom won’t forgo the large box of buttered popcorn on their date night out at the movies away from the kids simply because the calorie sign blares out the dire news of 1200 calories per box. They will want to savor that rare evening out with all the trimmings, just as they do their Thanksgiving feast at home without regard to that federally mandated calorie count provided by the Nanny State.
And I don’t think the new rules will have a negative impact on sales at bars, taverns, and ballparks. When Dominick meets his pals at Big Al’s Tavern after work for their attitude adjustment hour, I don’t think they will forgo their super-caloric boilermaker routine because of the conspicuously posted nutrition listing. In fact, when that new alert is first posted, I would imagine he and his fellow drinkers will have a few choice words about Uncle Sam’s intrusion into happy hour at his local watering hole.
To be sure, extra nutrition transparency will benefit careful consumers by providing extra information on which to make their dietary choices. Vegans, vegetarians, and gluten-free folks are sure to welcome all this additional nutrition information. But, it’s unlikely to stop or even slow down the obesity epidemic that plagues our society. It’s a huge leap of logic to think that simply providing useful information will immediately change dietary habits that are hard-wired into the public’s DNA.
A recent scientific study released about the same time as the FDA’s new rules concluded that even recommending a calorie-counting app to overweight people and giving them access to it on their cell phones does not lead to weight loss. The study’s lead author, Dr. B. Yoshi Laing, said that recommending the use of the popular app MyFitnessPal to a broad group of people interested in dieting did not lead to weight loss, compared to people who didn’t get the recommendations to use that diet tool.
So, providing more nutrition information to the public is unlikely to move the needle much on our national obesity crisis. Nutrition information alone won’t make you slim. Your waistline isn’t going to be reduced because you know the calorie count of that pizza slice.
Nonetheless, the FDA persists in its belief that more calorie information will be the silver bullet to reduce the expanding girth of Americans. For example, consider this bureaucratic mumbo jumbo the agency used to announce the new standards: “Consumers can systematically make suboptimal dietary choices because they discount future health consequences relative to immediate benefits more than they would if they chose according to their underlying or true preferences, leading them to regret their choices at a later date.” Huh??!! Couldn’t they just as easily have said, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing. I’ll be so sorry in the morning.”
And the FDA insists it must act to force these calorie disclosures in the interest of national health, even though most Americans won’t pay any attention to the mandatory postings at restaurants, pizza parlors, vending machines, and taverns: “Changes in labeling may increase internalization of future costs into current decision-making by making the long-term health consequences of consumer food choices more salient and by providing contextual cues of food consumption.” Say what? I guess they could have simply said, “Well, these new nutrition postings should scare the hell out of everyone and make them more careful about their dietary choices.” But, for federal bureaucrats, flowery is better, inscrutable is best.
The simplest way to put it would be people often eat and drink things they find appealing and only later wish they hadn’t — which doesn’t mean they wouldn’t do exactly the same thing if they had to do it over again. But one hardly needs the intervention of Big Brother to know that.
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