Experts Say Government-Mandated Calorie Counts Don't Change The Way People Eat


Photo: razor512viaFlickr

Around the nation, various cities and counties have implemented regulations that require restaurants to post calories on all of their meals. The idea behind these regulatory changes? Customers, after seeing the caloric ramifications of their eating habits, will allegedly refrain from gorging themselves with unhealthy food and will opt for more nutritious options. Unfortunately, experts report that this simply isn’t happening. The Washington Post has more:

Evidence is mounting that calorie labels — promoted by some nutritionists and the restaurant industry to help stem the obesity crisis — do not steer most people to lower-calorie foods. Eating habits rarely change, according to several studies. Perversely, some diners see the labels yet consume more calories than usual. People who use the labels often don’t need to. (Meaning: They are thin.)

These revelations are emerging as national food companies are preparing to cope with federal regulations that will create a nationalized labelling system for American chain restaurants next year (part of President Obama’s health care initiative).

According to the Post, although some restaurants have already begun making menu changes to accommodate more healthy options, Americans aren’t changing their eating habits. Thus, questions about the labelling are beginning to emerge:

“There is a great concern among many of the people who study calorie labelling that the policy has moved way beyond the science and that it would be beneficial to slow down,” said George Loewenstein, a behavioural economist at Carnegie Mellon University who studies calorie labelling.

In February 2011, New York University launched a study into New York City’s mandated calorie postings. In their exploration, which focused upon low-income communities, researchers inevitably “…did not find a change in the number of calories purchased at fast-food restaurants after labelling went into effect.” The study contends:

In much the same way that adults responded in the few studies that have been conducted regarding this issue to date, the eating habits of children and teens in this study, a group of racial and ethnic minorities from low income areas, were barely influenced by the presence of calorie labelling. Easy access and the convenience of restaurant locations were the greatest drivers for teens and then taste influenced where they chose to eat.

Interestingly, experts believe that for most individuals the issue isn’t about a lack of access to nutritional information; it’s about self-control. Fast food is cheap and it satisfies peoples’ needs fairly quickly. These two elements seem to add insult to injury.

The idea that Americans would simply curb their eating habits in light of caloric information has, according to experts and associated research, not been a viable theory. But, will policy begin to reflect expert opinion or will potentially-debunked ideologies govern the debate moving forward?

Yesterday, The Blaze also covered a related debate over new regulations to monitor food companies’ advertising to children.

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