The research of economists Michael Anderson at UC Berkeley and David Matsa at Northwestern is sure to upset food cops. Nutrition activists and health officials endlessly harp on the fact that modern Americans eat out more often than earlier generations. Our ability to treat ourselves to tasty restaurant food, they say, is the cause of America’s widening waistlines. The economist duo decided to test that claim. And what they discovered delivers a rough blow to food cop campaigns:

The results find no evidence of a causal link between restaurants and obesity … [and] indicate that policies focused on reducing caloric intake at restaurants are unlikely to substantially reduce obesity.

Though most of us occasionally treat ourselves to a rich meal at a restaurant, Anderson and Matsa found that we tend to eat fewer calories elsewhere on the days we eat out. Factoring this adjustment into the equation, dining out only increases our daily consumption by a mere 24 calories — not quite the staggering indulgence that nutrition zealots had led us to believe.
As a writer at Conde Nast Portfolio commented, “Matsa and Anderson’s findings suggest that New York City’s move to force many restaurants to list the caloric content of menu items will likely have little to no effect on obesity levels.
Told you so.