Nanny State

Conspicuous Calorie Counts Coming

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As the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) reminds us, the health care bill that will soon become law includes a requirement that restaurant chains with 20 or more outlets conspicuously display calorie information on their menus and menu boards. The National Restaurant Association backed the mandate, which it preferred to a proliferation of different state and local rules. It also lobbied for the 20-location cutoff, which exempts many of its members, while the big chains opposed it.

Since calorie information has long been available at fast food chains to those who are motivated to seek it, I've always been skeptical that making it impossible to avoid would have much of an impact on people's eating habits or waistlines. Now that the requirement is being imposed nationwide, making inter-jurisdictional comparisons problematic, we may never know for sure, although menu mandate supporters will no doubt take credit for any change in weight trends that follows the law's enactment. Questions of effectiveness aside, in-your-face calorie counts, when they result from legal compulsion rather than customer demand, cross the line between informing people and nagging them.

I discussed the federal menu mandate in a 2009 column. More on conspicuous calorie counts here. Me on CSPI here.

[Thanks to Brad Rodu for the tip.]