January 17 2011

Menu labels do not lead to healthy eating

Julie Gunlock

A new 13-month study out of Great Britain adds support to the argument that menu labeling does nothing to sway what people eat at fast food restaurants. The Daily Mail reports:   

Making fast food chains print nutritional facts on the packaging of burgers, fries and other fat laden products does not make an ounce of difference to diners' choices, according to new research. 

A 13-month study of restaurants after mandatory labelling legislation was brought in found customer tastes remained just the same.

Professor Eric Finkelstein, of Duke-National University of Singapore, said: 'Given the results of prior studies, we had expected the results to be small, but we were surprised we could not detect even the slightest hint of changes in purchasing behaviour as a result of the legislation. 

Menu labeling, a favorite regulatory tool of the Centers for Science in the Public Interest and the White House, is now required in the United States.  Obamacare requires chain restaurants with 20 or more locations to display calorie counts for each of their menu items.  Many restaurants already do this voluntarily but Obamacare requires the displays.  Offering support to their argument, the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity's report to President Obama offered this:  

A recent study showed that both information and convenience can have a beneficial effect on how customers choose their meals.  The study indicates that when presented with calorie information (how many calories are contained in each menu item) and a calorie recommendation (how many calories men and women of varying activity levels. 

But that study was conducted in one Subway sandwich shop on only 292 participants the vast majority of whom adult white males.  A much larger study conducted at New York University and Yale University and published in the journal Health Affairs studied 1,100 customers at four fast-food restaurants - McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken - in poor neighborhoods of New York City (where there are high rates of obesity) and found that only half the customers noticed the calorie counts, which were prominently posted on menu boards.   Of those, only 28 percent said the information had influenced their ordering, and 9 out of 10 of those said they had made healthier choices as a result.  But upon inspection of their receipts, researchers found that these same customers who said they made healthier choices actually ordered items that were higher in calories. 

The White House will likely continue to cite minuscule, unscientific studies to defend their hyper-regulatory tendencies.  The fact that no one is benefiting from these regulations seem not to matter to them. Neither does the fact that these unnecessary regulations only hurt business and raise prices for consumers.  

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