I want less information (about calories on fast food menus)

Government nannyism may soon be going nationwide. One version of the health care overhaul moving through Congress would require fast food restaurants to list calorie counts next to items on their menus. The justification for this is that if people have more information about the contents of their food, they’ll make healthier choices. I oppose this measure for several reasons.

First, the justification has already been proven false. Mandatory calorie counts on menus went into effect in New York City last year. The results: people ate the same number of calories. Since the law utterly fails to achieve its own stated goals, why bring it nationwide?

Second, calorie counts on menus may decrease, not increase, the amount of accurate information that customers have about the calories in their food. A calorie count is only one number, yet the amount of calories in a food can vary for a number of reasons. No matter how hard restaurants try, they can’t make serving sizes absolutely uniform. The calorie count also depends on how much condiments and other things get added, and so forth.

Third, even if calorie counts were accurate, they wouldn’t necessarily lead to healthier choices. A customer may have a general impression that a certain burger has 1,000 calories and avoid it for that reason. But if he sees it listed on the menu as 800 calories, he might be willing to eat it, even though it’s still massively unhealthy.

Fourth, sometimes I just want to indulge in food that tastes good without worrying about its health contents. This law prevents me from doing so by rubbing in my face the information about guilty pleasure meals.

I shudder to think what the addition of Calorie numbers will do to the letter spacing on those menus.
It’ll be a typographical catastrophe!

It is confusing to actually make sense of it, but it is giving the people easy access to data if they want to try to process it is up to them.

In one McD’s I saw a option to enter your order on a internet style touch screen instead of talking to the person. On this I can see having a button for calories or even having suggestions for lowering the calories if one pushes that button.

Oh for crying out loud. Providing information is not nannyism. You can still stuff your face till your heart’s content. You’ll just have more information should you choose to use it. It’s about choice, and far too many idiots don’t know enough to make good choices.

I like it when menus have calories listed, but don’t think the government should mandate the practice.

I like having the info available to me, even if I don’t always use it.

A sin tax on calories would be nanny-ism.

You should stop going to restaurants where they rub the menu on your face. That’s just not good customer service. Hell, I even know of some restaurants that don’t force you to read every word on the menu before you order! I know that’s just a hair away from anarchy, but sometimes you just have to live dangerously.

That result you cite is cherry-picked. It only covers low-income people. Naturally, if money’s tight, you’re going to buy the cheapest whether it’s healthier or not.

In my own experience, I do read these labels and I have definitely changed my eating habits.

Your premise that this labeling “fails utterly” is bogus.

My problem with it is that it will cost money (probably millions) to force fast food restaurants to change their menus (and keep them up to date as new products come out)…and where will these millions come from? The fast food places or the customers?

My second problem is that I have my doubts it will make one bit of difference, while costing everyone who goes to a fast food place. For years now one could look up the information of how many calories there are in a Big Mac or Fries and get an at least approximate calorie count. My wife uses her smart phone to do so when we go to restaurants because of her diabetes and the pump she uses which needs input as to several factors regarding her meal. If people want the info they can get it by texting to one of those Ask Me sites if they don’t have internet access on their personal phone.

-XT

Arguing that it is going to cost to update menus is a bit of a red herring. The menus are going to be updated regardless of what information is mandated to be on them.

Is having the calorie count included going to make a difference? IMHO, no. People will eat what they want to eat regardless. The ones who want to eat healthy are already aware of the numbers or will look them up. The ones that don’t care will just ignore them.

If you want to do something that might have an impact, how about some truth in advertising?

When was the last time you bought fast food that even resembled the picture on the menu?

Make a law mandating that you grab a random sample from a restaurant and use that pic on your menus.

Something like this.

People seeing what they’re actually going to get might make a difference.

The calorie count, and other nutrition information, is printed on the packaging at McDonalds these days. All of the restaurants have little pamphlets available in the store that has all the nutrition information for the entire basic menu.

My problem with this is that calorie count alone is a horrible rubric for deciding whether or not to eat a food. Calories are not a bad thing, but we’ve become obsessed with eating as few as possible. (See: the endless stream of 100 calorie portions at 300 calorie prices, the battle for producing 6 oz. cups of yogurt with as few calories as possible, etc.) Unfortunately, we do this at the cost of not consuming sufficient quantities of important nutrients, and without regard for the source of the calories or balance of carbohydrate, protein and fat. Nutrition has nuances beyond a simple, single quantity number. We don’t need to reinforce the shoddy logic that reduces it thusly.

Giving people more relevant information at the point where it can feed into their decisions can hardly be described as government nannyism. While liberals are generally all about the free flow of information, conservatives routinely say that, instead of regulating, we should just give people information and let them decide what risks they’re willing to live with.

Of course, when push comes to shove, actual conservative legislators often oppose making information available, too, but that’s a rant for another day. It’s still the case that in principle, both liberals and conservatives should be united on providing such information to people in plain sight, rather than expecting them to ask for some nutrition pamphlet whose existence is hardly apparent to them.

Sure, there will be some degree of error: the same dish might vary +/- 100 calories from the estimate. So what? Right now, our knowledge of the approximate caloric value of what we eat at restaurants is far poorer than that. We often have no idea whether a dish has 400 calories, or 800 calories, or 1200 calories. We know that if we’re buying something other than milk or orange juice at a fast-food restaurant, it’s probably bad for us, but we have no idea just how bad.

Maybe this will empower some people to make different menu choices, or maybe they won’t take advantage of it at all. But not providing the information only empowers the owners of the restaurant chain.

I think providing the nutrition info is only half the battle. How many people know how many calories they should be consuming in a day? It’s going to be different for a six year old girl, a pregnant 35 year old, a body building 20 year old man, and a 42 year old female lawyer who spends all her time at her desk.

So someone may see that a salad is 600 calories, but not knowing the context, cannot make an informed decision as to whether or not that’s a healthy choice. And it may change, too, depending on the needs of the individual. The lawyer may decide to train for a marathon. Her calorie needs will change from the previous day, before she started running. The pregnant mother may decide not to breast feed. The six year old may be recovering from a bad cold and needs to eat a bit extra.

So while the restaurants can provide the info, it’s the consumers that have to decide how to use that info.

If you don’t want to read it, don’t read it. People have a right to know what theiy’re putting in their bodies, though, and no one is harmed by having that information available to them.

I’m a counterexample - I care some about calories, but not enough to look crap up, much less to try to guess which proportions of which ingredients were used in the dish. (Heck, from a menu you often can’t even really tell how much of it you’ll be getting.) Clearly, if there is one person qualified to determine the caloric content of a meal (or any other objective qualities about it, for that matter), it’s the person selling it.

Seriously, there is no credible reason for any consumer to want caloric information kept off of menus. I can say this because I don’t find “I want to use ignorance to be able to eat stupidly without guilt” to be a credible reason. You want to eat stupidly? Fine - go ahead. But do it with pride. Say to yourself, “I’m eating these 1400 calories and loving it baby! Yeah!” That’s the manly and noble way to go about becoming a porker. If you have to con yourself to achieve that end, that’s just craven.

I’d use the info. I eat out a lot, and do spend some time trying to find calorie counts online and such, but its enough of a pain in the neck to do so that I don’t do it all the time. Having the numbers easily available on the menus would make eating easier for me.

Why would it cost millions? Fast food restaurants change their menus, even if just cosmetically, pretty often. I wouldn’t have thought printers would charge vast extras for what essentially isn’t even a small amount of additional work. I’ve seen greater changes in menus from restaraunts than would be made if nutrional information were required.

And if you don’t have a text-capable phone? If you haven’t heard of one of those sites? I certainly couldn’t off the top of my head tell you a good text-access service like that.

Don’t most fast food restaurants already have the nutritional information readily accessible? I know in nearly every one I go into, there’s a chart on the wall listing all the info, or at the very least pamphlets are always well-stocked. It’s a little less obvious than putting the calorie information on the menu itself, but much more than having to go to the internet to look it up.

Sit down before reading this: there are still people out there who don’t have cell phones at all.

I live in NYC and I can tell you the calorie counts on the menus have made a big difference in how I eat at those places. I choose lower calorie items when they show me how many calories are in the meals they sell and I am less likely to order an appetizer or dessert if they show me the numbers. Many, many people have no idea just how different a Jr Bacon Cheeseburger (370 cal) is from a Big Bacon Classic (580 cal) at Wendy’s and knowing the difference can help people make the better choice.

When I lived in TX I remember how much effort I had to go through to get a caloric breakdown for restaurants and it was hell. The worst was the places that only gave you the calorie count for their “lite” menu. I much prefer the way they do it here.