One can argue, as I have, that imposing any sort of regulation or tax on foods deemed “unhealthy” is unjustified. But what if legislation is passed that just forces businesses to display calorie counts and other nutrition information? I’d argue against that, but even if one argues in favor of such rules, the bottom line of the legislation should be whether it works or not.

In July 2008, New York City began requiring chain restaurants to list calorie counts on their menu boards. The first study of this mandate’s impact, published online yesterday by the journal Health Affairs, suggests that, contrary to the highly optimistic projections of its promoters, it has not led New Yorkers to consume fewer calories. In fact, the researchers found that the average calorie count for meals at fast food restaurants (McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and KFC) rose by 2.5 percent in New York after the mandate took effect while remaining essentially unchanged in Newark, the comparison city.

…In any case, it seems clear that menu mandate boosters have exaggerated this policy’s power to make people thinner. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene predicted the menu regulations would stop 150,000 people from becoming obese and prevent 30,000 cases of diabetes over five years. The California Center for Public Health Advocacy claimed menu labeling would result in a weight loss of nearly three pounds a year per fast food consumer. Such results are hard to achieve if people do not actually eat less.

I’m not too surprised by these findings. I have always thought that American’s ridiculous obesity rate and general unhealthiness isn’t due to lack of information but instead due to general cultural behavior. I find these laws to be similar to the ones mandating warning about how smoking causes death/cancer on cigarette packs. Who doesn’t know, at this point, that cigarettes are bad for you? Similarly, who doesn’t know the unhealthiness of a Big Mac? And, are the people who are really concerned about counting daily calories going to be eating at fast-food joints anyways?

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