There’s substantial evidence suggesting that people wildly underestimate the calorie content of dishes at restaurants, and have a lot of trouble reliably guessing whether one dish is lighter than another dish. There’s also evidence that people want to eat better than they do. It seemed like the sort of situation where information could result in action.
The first big study out of New York City, however, suggests that menu labeling has been a bit of a bust . . . If anything, the calories per order went up a smidge. . .
I’m still a supporter of calorie labeling on the simple grounds that people should have this information, no matter how they choose to use it. But so far, the evidence suggests that it’s not going to make a dent in obesity rates.
A couple things to point out. One as McMegan suggested I think that most obese people have a better sense of what the calories in their food than the average thin person. For example we know that obese people diet more than thin people. I literally cheered when food labeling became the law.
For those who don’t know, prior to the nifty calorie labels you see know nutritional data was on many packaged foods but not all and its was haphazard in quality. As a rapid consumer of nutritional information this was incredibly frustrating.
Ironically, however, fast food places have always been the most informative. I have known the calorie content in fast food at least since I was 14 or so and you could ask for the print out from Burger King. Even at the time is was far more detailed than the current supermarket food label.
More importantly, however, the basic assumption here is that a) we know why people get fat b) there are straight forward ways to prevent it. This is just wrong. We don’t, in any serious sense, know why people get fat and one of the two genuinely straight forward method was banned several years back. Bariatric surgery also seems to work and is still legal.
I can’t repeat enough. If most weight loss methods routinely fail in clinical settings then how in the world do you think minor policy changes are going to make a difference in the field!
What I am glad about, however, is how rapidly proponents of food labeling are digesting this new data. It increases my hope that we will focus time and effort on serious treatments for obesity.