One of the less-remarked upon provisions of the national healthcare law passed in 2010 was a standardized calorie reporting requirement for restaurant menus in chains with more than 20 stores. We noted at the time that while it might fill a consumer desire to disclose calories, the mandate wouldn’t meaningfully reduce obesity rates. Supporters, however, pushed the fat-fighting narrative even as they admitted that evidence indicated that we were right. We asked at the time:
So we have to ask: What if it doesn’t work? To begin with, anti-obesity crusaders will start looking for the next (and the next, and the next) heavy-handed policy. If national menu labeling mandates can be passed under the name of “healthcare,” a whole lot of supposedly anti-obesity initiatives could see the light of legislation.
Well, the past three years have showed us what those initiatives might look like. We’ve seen aggressive pushes for soda taxes, proposals to create an “administrative Leviathan” to regulate drink portions, and murmurings of bureaucrat-ordered total prohibitions. Oh, and the food police aren’t done messing with menus. The Los Angeles Times reports on a study from the Bloomberg (yes, him) School of Public Health:
How about posting a menu item’s calorie content in “sweat equivalents” (it’ll take you 90 minutes of power-walking to work off the calories in this piece of cheesecake and 30 minutes to work off the fruit-and-yogurt combo)? How about listing food items on the menu in the order of their nutritional density or caloric content (apple slices before fries, nonfat milk before sugary soda)?
The researchers found that listing so-called exercise equivalents for the calories in various meals reduced calorie consumption somewhat, so they called on state or local (that Bloomberg guy again) governments to pass such mandates for chains not preempted by the federal rule.
The most glaring problem with these proposals is that they are downright deceptive. An average person burns roughly 1000-1500 calories just to continue living (scientists call this the basal metabolic rate). Saying that eating a cheeseburger for a meal (when you have to eat to live) would somehow require you to immediately run a 5 K or assume the rotundity of Yale professor and soda scold Kelly Brownell is deceptive. (Physical activity still is a good idea, though.) It’s even more deceptive when you consider that a University of California study found that people compensate for eating big restaurant meals by eating less at other mealtimes.