Menu labeling mandates are expensive and ineffective

Calorie labeling on menus hasn’t dramatically changed the amount of calories most people consume when they dine out, the research shows, four years after the Food and Drug Administration began requiring restaurant chains across the country to post calorie counting,“NBC News reported Last week. “Meanwhile, obesity rates have increased, from about 30% prevalence in 1999-2000 to 42% in 2017-2020.

Forcing companies to add calorie counts to their food menus, supporters contested, should have a dramatic impact on the food choices Americans make and our waistlines. As I explained earlier, none of these things happened.

O federal menu labeling mandatewhat came into force in 2018 after years of delays, was adopted into law as part of Obamacare. the law, like me explainedrequires owners of chain restaurants, vending machines, groceries, movie theaters and others to post total average calorie information for most menu items.

“The rules would be a disaster”, I explained in 2017, noting that it would cost $1 billion to implement and that virtually all studies published to date indicated menu labeling does not improve food choices or consumer health.

In fact, NBC reports look at several studies that claim to have found calorie reductions ranging from 25 to 100 calories per person, per meal. If these numbers seem tiny, it’s because they are. For example, if a person who dined out 10 times a month – 120 times a year – consumed 25 fewer calories per meal and his diet remained unchanged, he would lose less than a pound a year.

The NBC News report cited the opinions of researchers in the field. They concluded that mandatory menu labeling did “it doesn’t make much difference,” promoted “a small change” or “had no impact that we could observe on people’s food buying behaviors.”

Even these lukewarm assessments of the impact of menu labeling mandates are actually far more optimistic than other research has shown over the years. For example, a 2011 studying at the American Preventive Medicine Journalwhere I served as a peer reviewer, found that a local menu labeling mandate that preceded (and was anticipated by) the national mandate, this one in Seattle, had no impact on consumer choices.

No regulatory impact on purchasing behavior was found,” the study concluded. “Trends in transactions and calories per transaction did not vary between control and intervention sites after the law was enacted.

Subsequent studies echoed these findings. Others have often focused on finding a silver lining in these failed policies. For example, a 2015 studying which looked to the same Seattle menu labeling mandate focused on increasing consumer “awareness” of calorie counting – a flimsy term that has nothing to do with the law’s purpose to impact obesity choices and rates – which the researchers found occurred mostly among white, wealthy consumers.

“Placing calorie labels on menus really has little to no effect on people’s ordering behaviors,” Julie Downs, lead author of a study published in the scientific journal American Journal of Public Health, said NBC itself Today Show in 2013.

Historically, advocates of menu labeling mandates have taken a wait-and-see approach. The Public Interest Science Center, which supported the national mandate, noticed as the law came into force in 2018 that “[t]The full impact of menu labeling will be clearer once the national menu labeling policy takes effect.”

Prof. John Cawley of Cornell University, who has published studies on menu labeling, told NBC last week that while mandates are largely ineffective, the upside is that they are “cheap”, “easy” and preferred by participants in the study. I would argue that they are neither cheap ($1 billion) nor easy (they don’t work), and that even though study participants say they love mandatory calorie counting, the facts (the vast majority of study participants don’t use they) demonstrate the opposite.

In recent years, writers from Enjoy your meal, Eater, Tasting Table, and elsewhere have suggested that ineffective menu labeling mandates might best be relegated to the scrap heap. This solution is cheap, easy and reflects what the data really shows: the full impact of menu labeling is clear; Mandatory calorie counts don’t work.

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