Before soda bans and food taxes, activists demanded labeling calories on menu boards. We warned that a significant body of research indicated that it might not reduce calories consumed, but cities mandated the policy anyway, and soon the federal government will implement its own mandate.
Well, add another study to that body of research. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health found labeling menus with calories does not lead to healthier choices. In fact, in certain circumstances calorie labeling didn’t just fail to decrease consumer calorie intake, but it increased it.
People get what they want when they go out to eat. If there is a burger on the menu and someone wants that sizeable bacon, onion ring, cheese and chili meal, a four digit number written beside it will do little to deter them. In the study, consumers were given sheets notifying them of the 650-800 recommended calories for a meal. Even with the caloric guides on the menus, women averaged around an 824 calorie meal and men averaged at 890 calories. Even without the notification sheets, consumers averaged roughly the same caloric intake.
Kelly Brownell, Duke University public policy dean and self-anointed food sheriff, was one of many to claim that calorie labels on menus affected food choices. It just goes to show that people will choose what they want without regard to the badgering of the food police. Well Kelly, after no evidence and a number of studies proving otherwise, we can once again say that we were right.
After no significant change in behavior, even the nay-sayers have acknowledged that menu calorie listings don’t work. After years of advocating for food regulation, Kelly Brownell divulged his entire political thought process: “For some of the most important public health problems today, society does not have the luxury to await scientific certainty.” Brownell basically said we should disregard science and move forward with meaningless regulations.