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Fast Food Calorie Labelling: Good Impulse, But More Is Needed
Erica Barnett, 13 Sep 07

McDonalds calorie chartCan we legislate improved eating habits? The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest believes so; it's applauding the news that the state of California will soon require fast-food chains to provide calorie information on their menus. Although California is the first state in the US to require menu labeling, other jurisdictions have passed similar laws, including King County, Washington (Seattle and environs) and New York City -- which have also banned artificial transfats in restaurant foods.

[New York City's law was just overturned in court. The City has not yet announced its next steps. -- Ed.]

California's law will require fast-food menu board displays to include the number of calories in each item offered, and would require large chains with individual menus to provide the amount of saturated and trans fats in each serving. CSPI reasons, and rightly so, that knowledge impacts consumer choices; calorie information gives fast-food consumers the ability to make better choices about the food they eat. CSPI notes that, "[F]ew people would guess that a tuna sandwich from a typical deli has 50% more calories than a roast beef with mustard; that a small milkshake has more calories than a Big Mac; or that the BBQ ribs on the children’s menu at a typical dinner house restaurant has fewer calories than the chicken tenders." Fair enough: calorie information is important. Eating more calories than your body needs leads to weight gain, which is linked to diabetes and heart disease. Supermarket products have been required to include nutritional information for decades; it seems only fair that fast-food restaurants should be subject the same requirement.

On the other hand, calories don't tell the whole story. Nor do levels of saturated and trans fats; fry a potato in canola oil and you've still got a fat-laden, nutritionally vapid French fry. Nutrition is a complicated calculation that involves not just calories and fat but vitamins, protein, and minerals. Good nutrition is thus a matter of variety: no matter how many BBQ ribs you feed your kids, they aren’t going to be getting a proper diet on "low-calorie" fast food alone.

Labeling, moreover, has proven ineffective at changing other hazardous behaviors, such as smoking. Every smoker knows full well that smoking causes lung cancer and emphysema—it says so right there on the label—yet smoking continues apace as consumers choose to overlook those ubiquitous warning labels.

And targeting fast-food companies only gets at part of the problem. Childhood obesity, in particular, is linked to much more than just overconsumption of burgers and fries. It's caused by sedentary lifestyles, video games and television, parents whose work schedules do not give them time to cook, car culture, and unhealthy school lunches -- to name just a few factors -- none of which are addressed by slapping a calorie label on a fast-food menu board.

Addressing systemic problems would go a lot further toward solving the obesity epidemic than letting fast-food consumers know how many calories are in a Big Mac vs. a Filet-o-Fish sandwich. How about emphasizing physical education in public schools; altering school menus to include more healthy, local, and nonprocessed foods; encouraging development and land-use patterns that allow people to walk to school and work; and making work hours shorter and more flexible so that there's time to do more than sit all day at a desk, in a car, or at the dining table?


Image from Center for Science in the Public Interest

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Comments

The problem is NOT calorie counts, the problem is people not having enough common sense to seek out ostensibly healthier alternatives.
But the REAL problem is patently neoliberal, neosocialist, and neocommunist policies like those being implemented against restaurant chains that provide a VERY important service, particularly for adults in a hurry, who may not have the time to grab something from home or even go to a sit-down restaurant. These policies hurt restauteurs, hurt the consumers, and infringe upon our CULINARY AND DIETARY FREEDOMS.
It is my God-given right backed by the Constitution of the United States of America to eat whatever I want to eat, and with that freedom I have to accept responsibility for the consequences of unhealthy dietary and exercise habits.
And so it is with anyone else.
Legislation is NOT the solution to the problem --- Legislation IS the problem in this case.
Certainly local food producers could be sought out for public school lunch programmes. And of course we have gone way too far in abolishing soft drink and candy and chip machines in public schools. Adding MORE, NOT LESS, to the menu, is what is helping encourage healthier choices. Even restaurant chains know this.
Putting a straitjacket on restaurants by forcing them to post calorie counts is just going to lead to yet even MORE anxiety, not to mention anger.
Way I see it, the Center for Science in the Public Interest have been going way overboard for way too long, bullying cinemas, restaurants, and other establishments that serve food over this that and the other thing...some of which the CSPI gang brought on themselves. They didn't have such a problem with trans fats not so many years ago!
If we really are to solve this problem, maybe we need a federal prosecutor with the bravery to break the CSPI gang under the Racketeer and Influence Corrupt Organisation Act (RICO Act) --- and send the likes of Michael Jacobson to prison where they belong!


Posted by: Brian Mora on 15 Sep 07

To the poster above: It may be your "god-given right" to eat rat poison, but that does not mean it should be allowed to be served at restaurants. While trans fats may not be rat poison, they are pretty bad for you, and this type of logic could certainly be extended to it.


Posted by: Dan on 22 Sep 07

To the poster above: It may be your "god-given right" to eat rat poison, but that does not mean it should be allowed to be served at restaurants. While trans fats may not be rat poison, they are pretty bad for you, and this type of logic could certainly be extended to it.


Posted by: Dan on 22 Sep 07

Hello All,

I was reading around some of the posts here and I found interesting things that you guys talk about, I just made a blog about quitting smoking resources and ideas that you might want to check out.
If someone is interested in this topic just go to; http://endthehabitnow.blogspot.com and let me know what you think. Your honest feedback would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks in advance.


Posted by: exsmoker on 30 Sep 07



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