Various fast food restaurants across the nation have been printing their nutritional information for years now, mostly available inside of the store and available upon request. But after President Obama signed the new healthcare legislation into law last sprint, over 200,000 fast food restaurants in the nation will now be mandated to list calorie counts on the actual menus – meaning you will see this information inside and out.
The hope is simple: If restaurants put in your face the calorie count, grams of fat, carbohydrates, sodium, and other nutritional information, you may think twice about purchasing that double burger and instead go with a salad.
It’s all part of a plan to get Americans healthier so that the new healthcare legislation, nicknamed “Obamacare,” doesn’t follow Social Security’s lead and bankrupt the nation.
But does seeing the nutritional information work and actual deter diners from eating what they arrived at the restaurant to eat? After all, most people going to McDonald’s aren’t arriving there for the first time. They know they want the nuggets and a large Dr. Pepper. So what kind of effect, if any, will this information have?
New York Consumer Survey Shows a Change in Eating Habits
Since introducing a mandatory food labeling system in New York in 2008, a recent survey claims that only one sixth of New York’s fast food consumers allowed the caloric information to dictate their purchase.
Of those few who did allow for the information to affect their decision, they ate substantially less, around 106 fewer calories.
According to Cathy Nonas, the author of the New York study, “We know people have a very difficult time calculating calories accurately…this kind of thing puts a little pressure on restaurants to offer healthier options.”
However, the drop-off Nonas noticed in her 2009 study was directly contradicted by a 2009 study conducted by NYU and Yale professors. After checking fast food receipts from their subjects, the university professors found that diners had actually ordered more calories than typical customers once privy to the nutritional info.
The Difference in the Numbers
How can two studies, essentially the same, produce such different results? For starters, the studies weren’t actually the same at all. According to Nonas, calorie information “works best at the point of decision making,” meaning that caloric information displayed in the same font and size as menu items will have the best effect.
Nonas goes on to argue that NYU’s study was conducted in lower income neighborhoods, where people are not aware of the negative impact of high-caloric food, and also that NYU’s research was conducted too soon after New York’s mandate.
A More Logical Hypothesis
Opinion only, of course, but it is more likely that both studies were fatally flawed. The authors of the study are assuming that people will turn away once they find out fast food is bad for them.
If PETA cannot do it with gruesome images of cows and chickens being slaughtered, and doctors cannot do it with warnings of high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease, then it is really unlikely that printing the calorie count of food on a menu will deter people who came to eat a burger from eating a burger.
People are going to fast food restaurants; fast food restaurants are not going to the people.
Maybe caloric information will have an impact, but that information is already available. It’s also available on every single product sold at the grocery store. The sale of junk food has not declined in the slightest as a result.
We all understand the good intentions behind this, but these studies all try to bypass one important fact: People eat what they want and it is up to the individual to choose; telling someone something they already know—a burger is fattening—will not bring about change.