Obesity

Dunch: It's What's For Dinner. Or Lunch. Or Both!

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Matt Yglesias hems and haws over the new extra-long sandwich campaign from sub-chain Potbelly, which invites you to step inside for "DUNCH."

The idea was, basically, that people ought to be eating larger sandwiches for lunch. Messing around with their nutritional information calculator, I see that if you order a regular-sized meatball sandwich and an oreo milkshake from Potbelly's you'll be taking in over 1,400 calories at lunchtime. So it's not clear that a larger portion size is what's really needed here. And, as a general principle, it's very hard to believe on the merits that what Americans need to be doing is eating more food.

But there's a very profound problem of evolutionary psychology here. For the vast majority of human existence people were engaged in much more daily physical activity than is the typical member of a contemporary rich society and it was impossible to be certain that food would be available in the future. Consequently, people are largely designed with the instinct to err on the side of eating more food rather than less. Especially if the food is tasty. These days, of course, we're in a very different situation. Nobody starves to death in the contemporary United States, but lots of people have problems related to poor dietary habits.

Hardly an original point on my part. But the sign made me think of it. And I suppose I would make the point that at the margin expenditures of funds to fight this tendency are going to do a lot more to improve public health than will expenditures of funds to treat people's diabetes.

 

As someone who enjoys Potbelly but has on more than one occasion decided to head for Subway instead in order to get a bigger sandwich, I think this misses the point. Painfully bad made-up marketing buzzwords aside, what if you're just extra hungry? Sometimes a six-inch sub isn't enough — and my uncomplicated desire for a couple of extra meatballs shouldn't be the domain of our nation's policy makers. 

Jacob Sullum wrote about fast food lawsuits here. Gary Alan Fine wrote about the misguided war against fast food here.