On Monday, the Los Angeles County Health Department released what it called a “study” on menu labeling’s impact on obesity. But “propaganda” would have been a more accurate description. Though the report’s authors boldly claim that the hotly-contested ordinance would prevent county residents from gaining millions of pounds each year, they never checked to see if covering menus with calorie counts actually influenced consumers to eat less.
In fact, no one has.
Instead, the health officials used 17 different estimates — extrapolated from various data sources — to calculate the weight loss figure. One of the most critical estimates, the average amount of calorie reduction per meal, came from a conveniently “unpublished” survey. The source was none other than the New York City Health Department — the very same group whose own menu labeling study was “criticized and rejected” by two of the most respected medical journals: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports and JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association. One editor wrote that the “conclusions being drawn by the study, are of course, problematic.”
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But its “problematic” foundation isn’t stopping activists from leveraging the report to advocate for the Big Brother policy at the local and state level.
While the justification for menu-mandates rests squarely on assumption, a growing body of evidence is casting doubt on their merit. Researchers at Cornell University found that posted nutrition facts spurred people to eat 131 percent more calories than when they dined free of calorie tallies. Executive director of the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, Brain Wansink, even suggested that menu labeling would actually “discourage diners from trying to eat healthy.”
This behavior doesn’t really surprise us. After all, food activists have a long and illustrious history of bending (or flat-out ignoring) science to advance their agendas (Exhibits A, B, C, D, and E). NYC food czar Thomas Frieden has even acknowledged that “we don’t have 100 percent proof that [menu labeling]’s going to work.” Now it’s becoming apparent that its advocates don’t have any proof. And the “studies” they rely on are what need warning labels, not our food.