Ignoring Calorie Counts
Thus begins the AP story about the national calorie count mandate, which will force restaurant chains comprising 20 or more locations to post calorie counts on menus:
A requirement tucked into the massive U.S health care bill will make calorie counts impossible for thousands of restaurants to hide and difficult for consumers to ignore.
I’m following it until I get to the words “difficult for consumers to ignore.” There’s evidence that consumers are pretty good at ignoring the numbers on the menu. For example, this research on New York City’s calorie count mandate found that less than a third of consumers reported taking the newly posted nutritional information into account when they ordered. When the researchers examined caloric data from fast food sales before and after the change in policy, they found no decrease in calories purchased. (The AP story does mention this study a couple of paragraphs from the end.)
Another study that looked at data from Starbucks alone found a small decrease in purchased calories in food, but no change in purchased calories in beverages — the main attraction at Starbucks. People who headed over to Starbucks in search of the high-calorie drinks for which it’s known didn’t suddenly change their minds when they read the calorie counts.
The calorie count mandate won’t make the population healthier, because people are good are ignoring numbers they don’t want to see. You can plaster nutritional data all over a restaurant, but if people aren’t interested, they’ll tune it out.
It’s unfortunate that the federal government imposed this mandate on all states. States like Missouri should be free to weigh the evidence from places that have imposed mandates and come to their own determinations on calorie-posting policy.