It seems that New York City lawmakers are determined to see that New Yorkers eat right — or else. Today, the Board of Health voted to pass its latest harebrained scheme to tackle obesity: menu labeling. The ordinance will require in-your-face calorie counts on the menus of popular restaurants, selectively targeting 10 percent of the city’s 23,000 eateries. For that reason, this policy stands to affect only three percent of the average New Yorker’s diet. That’s a mere 60 calories per day — hardly a weight loss windfall.
However, that hasn’t stopped Mayor Michael Bloomberg and health czar Thomas Frieden from showboating. A few months ago, Bloomberg bragged about his “winning” formula for public health policy:
The strategy we’ve followed has hinged on two principles: number one — we respect science. We’ve based policy not on what we want to be true, but on what we can prove is true. And number two — we take seriously our duty to act on what we know. So we rely on the forceful application of law as the primary instrument of public health policy.
The recent string of Big Brother policies may be many things: ineffective, irritating, and misplaced, to name a few. But “proven” is not one of them. One of the reports cited by health officials to support menu labeling also recommends a ban on “doggy bags” to keep Americans from taking any extra calories home from restaurants. (Will complimentary dinner mints be the next casualty in the war on obesity?)
In 2006, one New York City Councilman even proposed a zoning ordinance to keep new fast-food restaurants from opening in the Bronx. According to The New York Times, Frieden applauded the idea, saying the ban “responds to a real problem — an epidemic of obesity in poor neighborhoods — but that ‘various approaches need to be explored in terms of their legality and potential effectiveness.’”
Oddly, menu labeling fails to meet the very same criteria. It’s neither “legal” nor “effective.” In September, a federal judge struck down the city’s mandate, ruling that it conflicted with federal authority. And a few months later, 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl acknowledged that “there’s little scientific evidence that posting calories will make people eat less.” Then again, there’s really no time to consider science or the law when you’re busy running the lives of millions of people.
Now ask yourself: “When the latest batch of Big Brother policies doesn’t work, what aspect of our lives will they target next?”