Despite a lack of evidence that restaurants are a unique contributor to obesity, activists have focused on punishing them for the problems of obesity nationwide. But restaurants — even those fingered by food cops for promoting so-called “Xtreme Eating” — have responded by offering reduced-calorie options to diners who want them.
Why? It’s good business, as a study by the Hudson Institute has found. The researchers determined that restaurant chains that offer lower-calorie choices had better growth performance than those that don’t.
While the sponsorship of the study — the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which sponsors research promoting soda taxes and projects staggering increases in obesity that probably won’t materialize, funded it — raises skepticism, the results make a lot of sense. After all, food companies don’t charge based on their customers’ weight, soft drink companies don’t care whether or not people are drinking full-calorie or healthier beverages, and restaurants don’t mind if you pass on the steak and choose the heart-healthy salmon instead. So as consumers change their preferences toward healthier options, restaurants will offer them so they don’t lose health-conscious consumers.
But not all are happy with this development. Margo Wootan, chief nutrition lobby-scold for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told The Wall Street Journal: “My biggest concern is that oftentimes, there are only a few healthy options at restaurants amid a much larger array of unhealthy choices.” The issue is not that people cannot choose healthy options (they can), but rather that unhealthy options are available. We’ve warned of “menu mandates” — laws dictating portion sizes (hello, Nanny Bloomberg) and food choice options. They’re quite transparently on the new activist menu.