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February 18 2011

Calorie Labels on Menus Are Useless

Julie Gunlock

As Michelle Malkin wrote this week, calorie counts on menus simply do not work: A new study by the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School found that calorie counts on menus do nothing to sway people's food choices.

This is just the latest study to come to this conclusion - it joins a number of others showing the same results. Another recent study, conducted in Great Britain where menu labeling is mandatory (as it will be in the United States thanks to Obamacare's passage), found customers' menu choices stayed the same despite the information provided to them. A study conducted at NYU's School of Medicine and published in the February 15, 2011, edition of the International Journal of Obesityfound that menu labels have little effect on the food choices made by either teens or their parents.

In 2009, a joint NYU/Yale study published in the journal Health Affairs examined 1,100 customers at four fast-food restaurants in poor neighborhoods in New York City (where obesity rates are high) and found that only half the customers noticed the prominently posted calorie counts. Of those, only 28 percent said the information had influenced their ordering; nine out of ten of those said they had made healthier choices as a result. But upon inspection of their receipts, researchers found that these same customers who said they made healthier choices actually ordered items that were higher in calories.

Michelle Obama has a favorite study that she likes to cite when pressing the agenda of restaurant regulation. Last year, the White House Task Force on Obesity issued a report recommending calorie information on menus. Citing an unnamed study, the report said "when presented with calorie information (how many calories are contained in each menu item) and a calorie recommendation (how many calories men and women of varying activity levels), people on average order meals with significantly fewer calories.

"Hmm, interesting. Where in the world did this groundbreaking study come from? It seems to counter the findings of these large university studies that all seem to be in agreement.

Further digging reveals that this study was conducted in one Subway sandwich shop on only 292 participants, the vast majority of whom where adult white males, 25 percent of whom admitted they were currently dieting. This isn't exactly research upon which major policy decisions should be based.

Yet this study will do for the White House Task Force on Obesity, and it's clearly good enough for the first lady. In the face of larger, more scientifically produced studies, they will cling to these minuscule studies to defend their regulatory tendencies.

The fact that no one is benefiting from these regulations seems not to matter. Neither does the fact that these unnecessary regulations only hurt business and raise prices for consumers. 

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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