Thursday, October 08, 2009

New York Calorie Count

Last year, NY State enacted a policy that gave consumers information on the number of calories in every dish at restaurants throughout the state. Because of the knowledge imbalance between consumer and restaurant, NYS thought by providing people more information on what they eat they would be able to make better decisions, especially in regards to their calorie intake.

After the first year, studies show that the calorie labeling did not reduce calorie intake. In fact, calorie intake increased. In response, libertarians attempt to be first in line to proclaim the nanny state and nanny state legislation does not work.

Yet, something seems odd with the findings. According to the Times:
The study, by several professors at New York University and Yale, tracked customers at four fast-food chains — McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken — in poor neighborhoods of New York City where there are high rates of obesity.

It found that about half the customers noticed the calorie counts, which were prominently posted on menu boards. About 28 percent of those who noticed them said the information had influenced their ordering, and 9 out of 10 of those said they had made healthier choices as a result.

But when the researchers checked receipts afterward, they found that people had, in fact, ordered slightly more calories than the typical customer had before the labeling law went into effect, in July 2008.

The findings, to be published Tuesday in the online version of the journal Health Affairs come amid the spreading popularity of calorie-counting proposals as a way to improve public health across the country.

There seems to be very little discussion of the economic climate and the connection between fast food sales and poverty stricken areas. While this study tentatively shows that, even with better information about food, consumers may not make better choices, the commentary does not discuss the context of the study as well as a Queens resident, interviewed by the Times, who was in Harlem for a job interview and, while at a McDonalds, ordered two cheeseburgers, which contain 600 calories, for two dollars:

When asked if he had checked the calories, he said: “It’s just cheap, so I buy it. I’m looking for the cheapest meal I can.”

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