Food Policy

Eyeing the Calorie-Watcher Researchers

A new study on the impact of calorie information at fast food and chain restaurants raises more questions than it answers.

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Research in the area of food law and policy is both varied and fascinating—even if more than a little of it isn't worth the paper it's printed on.

I've previously looked at studies on whether food logos make kids fat, whether organic food is a waste of money, whether Americans are cool or warm to the idea of food freedom, and whether alcohol is the new soda.

A new study highlighting how youths eat in fast food restaurants serves up some interesting lessons on caloric intake—and on research on that topic.

The new article in the Journal of Public Health, by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researcher Holly Wethington and her colleagues, explores whether adolescents and teens utilize calorie information to inform their food choices in fast food/chain restaurants.

The article looks at "the proportion of youth who reported using calorie information when available at fast food/chain restaurants."

Previous research has often questioned the validity and effectiveness of mandatory menu labeling.

As Chicago Tribune columnist Monica Eng wrote last year, "People may notice calorie counts on menu boards but, so far, few use the data to make significant changes to their orders."

Eng noted a New York University study that found just 9 percent of teens used menu labeling to inform their choices.

The NYU report concluded that while "a few considered the information when ordering…. [w]e found no statistically significant differences in calories purchased before and after labeling" regulations in New York City took effect.

In the case of the CDC researchers' study, the authors correctly point out several limitations of their work. They note that there's no way they can determine whether the youths surveyed made better or worse choices with the calorie information they had in hand; that the study cannot determine causality; and that the reliability and validity of the questions posed were not tested.

I noticed a few other important limitations.

At first glance, the utilization of calorie information seems quite high in this study compared to that of the NYU study cited by Eng, also referenced by the CDC study authors.

The CDC authors claim "40% of youth who noticed calorie labeling information within a fast food/chain restaurant reported using calorie information[.]" Recall that the NYU study reported just 9 percent utilized calorie information.

But a closer look at the data and collection methods tightens some of the discrepancies.

The CDC authors did not include teens and adolescents who reported eating at fast food/chain restaurants but who never noticed menu labeling. When included in the data analysis, the percentage of respondents who eat at fast food/chain restaurants and don't notice or use calorie information rises to 65.9 percent, while the percentage of those who say they noticed the information and used it at least once falls to 34.1 percent.

The number who use calorie information, though still small compared to those who do not, is still much higher in the CDC study—nearly four times as high—than the number who use calorie information in the NYU study.

Why the discrepancy? I can't say for sure. However, I suspect the difference arises largely from the CDC researchers' total reliance on self-reporting of data by teens and adolescents.

In the NYU study, researchers collected purchase receipts from 349 teens, adolescents, and their families who visited fast food/chain restaurants both before and after the implementation of New York City's menu-labeling law.

That's hard data.

The CDC study, on the other hand, collected data from the self-reported YouthStyles survey given to teens and adolescents nationwide. They analyzed data from respondents who said they "ate at fast food restaurants and noticed the [calorie] information while ordering."

Furthermore, while the CDC authors report that "some fast food/chain restaurants have begun to post [calorie] information voluntarily," the data Wethington and her colleagues analyzed comes exclusively from 2010.

That date largely precedes both voluntary and mandatory menu labeling (in which calorie information is posted alongside menu items). McDonald's, the largest national fast food/chain restaurant to post calorie information, did not begin doing so nationwide until 2012. Other competitors may follow (before a mandatory national law takes effect sometime in the future), but few have done so to date.

Meanwhile, the largest jurisdictions to participate in the YouthStyles survey the CDC analyzed and which also had menu-labeling laws in 2010, according to this April 2011 map created by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), were New York City and the state of California.

But data from those two key places is slim. The CDC study authors note that they did not collect sufficient data for New York City, stating respondents included "too few youth from NYC." Meanwhile, it appears only a maximum of 13 percent of survey respondents hailed from California (which is presumably part of the study's results for its "Pacific" region).

What about menu labeling outside New York City and California? An overwhelming majority, 39 out of 50 states, had no menu-labeling laws within their borders whatsoever in 2010, according to the CSPI map. Nine of the 11 states had only one or more municipal laws (e.g., Philadelphia had a law in place but Pennsylvania and every other city in the state did not) and only two states (Vermont being the second) had implemented menu-labeling laws.

How can so many young Americans have claimed to "notice[ calorie] information while ordering" in cities and states where restaurants most often don't provide that information at the point of sale (though many do online, or elsewhere in stores)?

In short, I believe that many of the 9-18 year-old survey respondents were for whatever reason mistaken in their response to the question about whether they use calorie information provided in a fast food/chain restaurants to inform their decisions.

If I'm right, then that would make the validity of the CDC researchers' study, based wholly on these responses, open to debate—something that holds true for an increasing number of studies in the area of food law and policy.

NEXT: Facebook Releases Basic Details of Government Data Requests

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  1. DUde clearly has no idea man.

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  2. Fast food isn’t going to be very fast if I have to slow my fat ass down to read a bunch of information before ordering.

    1. I can speed you up:

      Get water instead of juice or soda.
      Don’t order fries.
      Toss the bottom buns off your burgers, fold the sandwiches in half and eat them that way.

      Quick, see? And no multi-million-dollar research grants either!

      1. I’m from the government and is like to offer you a grant for your “research”.

        1. Please send all the taxpayers’ money to:

          Nutrition Science Initiative
          Department of Development
          6020 Cornerstone Ct. W, Suite 240
          San Diego, CA 92121

          http://nusi.org/about-us/our-mission/#.UbyLXfnCaSo

    2. Why expect customers of fast food and chain restaurants to be concerned for their health and nutrition?

      I would expect most customers of these restaurants go there precisely to eat foods with high sugar, salt and oil content.

      The article is silly and pretty much what I’ve come to expect from this fraudulent shill, Linnekin.

      1. The article is silly and pretty much what I’ve come to expect from this fraudulent shill, Linnekin.

        Yup, I kind of expected you to arrive.

        “Oh noes, Linnekin didn’t use scare quotes around food when referencing fast food, clearly he’s a liar!!!11!1!!!”

        1. In this article Linnekin admirably manages to keep his shilldom to tolerable levels. You want to see Linnekin at his worse, you won’t have to go far. It’s in these pages, in an article where he rails against subsidies to food industries, in particular the dairy industry. In the entire article he makes no mention of the subsidies to the corn industry, even though it receives vastly more than dairy. Remember Linnekin makes his bread and butter shilling for the corn industry.

          And, yes, Linnekin would have you believe that cola is a food, thanks solely to the sugar additives and the “energy” they supply.

          1. In the entire article he makes no mention of the subsidies to the corn industry, even though it receives vastly more than dairy.

            Fucking seriously, this shit again?

            “Because he didn’t mention something tangential to this article’s subject he is a fraud and shill.”

            And, yes, Linnekin would have you believe that cola is a food, thanks solely to the sugar additives and the “energy” they supply.

            Oh bullshit you lying fucking weasel. That was YOUR horseshit interpretation of that article, merely because he didn’t use scare quotes around the word food.

            1. Pretty sure he’s written several articles about corn subsidies too. The search function, how the fuck does it work?

            2. “Fucking seriously, this shit again?”

              Yes, this shit again. Because Reason sees fit to keep publishing this shill. The shit stops when Linnekin stops.

              Subsidies to food industries was the topic of the article in question. A mention of by far the biggest recipient of these subsidies is not tangential.

              Cola is not a food.

              Thanks for not cursing me in your first response. Much appreciated. Apologies for not noticing your civility first time around.

              1. Yes, this shit again. Because Reason sees fit to keep publishing this shill. The shit stops when Linnekin stops.

                You have yet to provide any actual evidence that he is a shill, beyond your own fevered fabrications…..

                Subsidies to food industries was the topic of the article in question. A mention of by far the biggest recipient of these subsidies is not tangential.

                So, still up to your lying games, eh?

                I read the article in question. It was about a talk he gave regarding the history of crony capitalism in American agriculture and Linnekin mentioned the dairy industry specifically because it went back to the middle of the 19th Century.

                He then wrote this chestnut which proves what a lying sack of shit you are:

                The rest of my talk focused largely on farm subsidies (snip) WHICH SHOULD BE ABOLISHED IN ALL FORMS IMMEDIATELY.

                Cola is not a food.

                For the sake of the CSPI pushing the FDA (you know the FOOD and Drug Administration) it is you fuckwit.

                1. Of course he’s a lying shill. I don’t need to provide anything. The evidence is plain to see in pretty much everything he writes. Shame on you for your rudeness and the inexplicable tergiversations you put yourself through in defending this dishonest hack.

                  Please stop with your phoney baloney quotations and try to find something more constructive to do than nipping at my heels.

                  1. Jesus man, you really hate this guy. Did heat steal yer lunch money as a kid, or something?

                    I mean, dang, you’re approaching stalker territory.

                  2. Of course he’s a lying shill. I don’t need to provide anything.

                    Your assertions require evidence. You present none.

                    Please stop with your phoney baloney quotations and try to find something more constructive to do than nipping at my heels.

                    It’s a quote from the fucking article you lying piece of shit. It isn’t phony baloney, but your repeated prevarications are.

                    Here is the link to the Crony Capitalism vs. American Food article you tedious mendacious twat:

                    Reference the first sentence of paragraph 14 you dishonest weasel.

              2. Cola is not a food.

                Then can anything liquid be food? Cola has carbohydrates and calories, sure sounds like food to me. Or does your definition require a solid state?

                Is milk food? How about melted cheese?

                1. Anacreon, truman is like the food version of Shriek, another homeless man pissing on the wall. Don’t treat him like a sane person and respond to him, that simply encourages him.

                2. “Cola has carbohydrates and calories, sure sounds like food to me.”

                  So does your urine.

                  1. Cola has carbohydrates and calories, sure sounds like food to me.

                    So does your urine.

                    Happy to send you a jar if you are hungry.

                3. Then can anything liquid be food? Cola has carbohydrates and calories, sure sounds like food to me. Or does your definition require a solid state?

                  In the CSPI thread he posted a definition of food that still failed.

                  Nevermind the fact that his whole “cola isn’t food” bullshit was because in the article body Linnekin didn’t use fucking scare quotes. Whether Linnekin identified cola as food or not was irrelevant to the conversation anyway, because for the sake of the conversation, namely the CSPI pushing the FDA to regulate it out of consumers hands, cola was a food.

                  But mtrueman is a delusional, lying fuckwit.

                  In another thread he called Linnekin a hack because he didn’t mention TV advertising, which was only tangentially related to the subject (specifically parents taking responsibility for what their children consume). And then went about claiming that libertarians were arguing against parental responsibility.

                  Here it is.

                  I’m left questioning his sanity.

                  And no, mtrueman I’m not going to stop confronting you for being a lying sack of shit. I will expose your prevarications in every thread you attempt to derail.

                  1. irrelevant + relevant

                    1. No, shit had it right the first time.

                  2. I’ll pass on the links you provided. You are beginning to bore me. But thanks for your efforts all the same.

                    Out of curiousity, I wonder if you could direct me to any of your comments, not necessarily in response to me, that you are particularly proud of? I’d like to see you at your best. It appears that I bring out the worst in you, and before I write you off as a complete crank, I’d like to see an example of something you are proud of. Judging only on your comments to me, I find you unrelentingly rude, narrow minded, ungenerous, argumentative and often incoherent – you should know for example that one can’t be a delusional fuckwit AND a lying fuckwit, it’s gotta be one or the other. I’m sure you are better than this, but I’d like to see the evidence.

                    1. I’ll pass on the links you provided.

                      Of course you will, because they prove that you are a liar.

                      udging only on your comments to me, I find you unrelentingly rude,

                      Liars bring that out in me.

                      narrow minded,

                      That’s rich.

                      ungenerous

                      Why should I grant someone who approaches arguments dishonestly and uses nothing other than unsubstantiated lies to support his argument?

                      I’ll ask what I asked you in another thread: Are you a pathological liar, are you fundamentally incapable of truth?

                      argumentative and often incoherent

                      Again, that’s rich.

                      you should know for example that one can’t be a delusional fuckwit AND a lying fuckwit, it’s gotta be one or the other.

                      No, one can be both a liar and psychotic, as you are.

                      I’m sure you are better than this, but I’d like to see the evidence.

                      Well weasel, I’d like to see you provide evidence that Linnekin is a “lying shill” and “shilling for the the corn industry.” Especially since in the article in which you claim he was shilling for the corn industry he wrote the following sentence:

                      The rest of my talk focused largely on farm subsidies (snip) WHICH SHOULD BE ABOLISHED IN ALL FORMS IMMEDIATELY.

                      You post evidence of your claims, I’ll link my proudest posts.

                    2. *Why should I grant generosity

                    3. If you want to argue in good faith you need to show some generosity. It was my mistake to assume you were willing to argue in good faith. Bluster and insult is what you’re about. You’re wasting my time.

                    4. If you want to argue in good faith you need to show some generosity. It was my mistake to assume you were willing to argue in good faith. Bluster and insult is what you’re about. You’re wasting my time.

                      Again, why should I be generous to someone who enters discussion with dishonest intentions and bad faith arguments from the get-go?

                      Hmmm?

                      I’ve told you before and I will tell you again, if you choose to argue in good faith and present evidence to support your assertions I will not treat you like the the tedious, mendacious twat you continue to be.

                      It is refreshing to note that you have finally tacitly admitted to being a liar.

                    5. “you are a liar.”

                      You keep repeating this. I’ve never once denied it. Why keep knocking on an open door?

                      “I’ll link my proudest posts”

                      I have a hunch the game’s not worth the candle.

                    6. You keep repeating this. I’ve never once denied it.

                      I call you a liar and provide evidence so that people reading this blog will know you for what you are and not take what you have posted at face value.

                      I have a hunch the game’s not worth the candle.

                      Then why make the offer in the first place?

                    7. I have a hunch the game’s not worth the candle.

                      Then why make the offer in the first place?

                      Is the statement a dishonest admission that you lack support for your claims?

                      I suspect that’s why you refuse my honest offer.

                    8. You are a piece of shit.

                    9. Not you Redmanfms.

                4. Cola is not a food.
                  Then can anything liquid be food? Cola has carbohydrates and calories, sure sounds like food to me. Or does your definition require a solid state?
                  Is milk food? How about melted cheese?

                  Milk and cheese provide protein, calcium, fats and fat-soluble vitamins, not just empty calories and water. Lactose does not contain fructose, unlike many other sugars.

                  Colas are sugar water, which is worse than simply empty calories. Fructose (which is half of the sucrose molecule) is a hepatic poison, much like alcohol. It doesn’t pass the blood-brain barrier but otherwise it has similar effects to alcohol, including liver scarring (NAFLD) which can lead to cirrhosis of the liver.

              3. Cola is not a food.

                I love when I see something I knew explicitly stated for the first time.
                Colas don’t even contain kola anymore.

                1. You misspelled koala.

              4. but soylent green IS people

            3. No sure if he’s shilling for the corn industry, but pretty sure he is shucking for the corn industry.

      2. Um, your statement doesn’t contradict his hypothesis.

        Joe Schmoe: People who buy Porsches probably aren’t that interested in reliability.
        mtrueman: You schill! Porsches are notoriously unreliable! You are silly!

        1. You’re right I’m not. I’m saying his hypothesis is not worth much. This whole column is much to do about nothing.

          1. Is that like a blessing in the skies? Or a doggy dog world?

  3. You are being too kind Baylen. I suspect the CDC report is a total fabrication. It is yet another instance of bad science; research based on a conclusion and data selected (fabricated) to support that conclusion.

    I understand you have to go to conferences and sit on panels with these people, but c’mon Baylen, call these sucks what they really are: liars, cheats, con men, hucksters.

    1. research based on a conclusion and data selected (fabricated) to support that conclusion.

      What? Are you telling me that a study that ignores everyone who never noticed the calorie information is being used to support an agenda?

    2. call these sucks what they really are: liars, cheats, con men, hucksters.

      You forgot control freaks.

  4. Why the discrepancy? I can’t say for sure. However, I suspect the difference arises largely from the CDC researchers’ total reliance on self-reporting of data by teens and adolescents.

    Self-reported data from teenagers and tweens. And it shows that forcing evul fast food corporashuns to print calories on their menus actually helps teens make ‘smart’ choices. I mean, what’s not to love about this study. Hard data is for aspi-types.

    1. “Self-reported data from teenagers and tweens.”

      Dead give-away. Any ‘study’ based on this supposed data isn’t worth the pixels it uses up.
      New title:
      “Lies from Kids”
      New content:
      “We’re dumb enough to waste time reporting it.”

        1. Hey, if it gets a grant….

  5. Those CDC dog fuckers are at it again.

  6. The chances of the kids who pay attention to calories being the ones who are least at risk for obesity are really high.

    In fact, maybe the government should do a study trying to measure what impact their calorie obsession has on the rate of anorexic and bulimic teens.

    1. Are you suggesting there might be unintended consequences? Impossible!

      1. Oh yeah!

        And how many of those little fat kids are picking items off the menu specifically because they have the most calories?

        Disgusting little fat kids.

    2. Newspaper story on Tuesday:

      “Images in Media of Thin Models Causing Teens to Have Unrealistic Body Image Goals.”

      Newspaper story on Wednesday:

      “Young kids are all a bunch of worthless fatties. Need to go on diet.”

  7. whether they use calorie information provided in a fast food/chain restaurants to inform their decisions.

    Calorie information isn’t very helpful anyway. It takes twice as much energy for the body to process protein for energy than carbohydrate, yet they are treated the same.
    Resisting a hormone-based urge (hunger) on the basis of numerical information is hard enough, but especially so when it’s easily observable that the supposed operation (3500kcal/lb) simply does not work in real life.
    What’s interesting to me is that these people adamantly avoid talking to weight loss centers like the one at Duke University or the one at UCSF, two of the most successful in the country, to learn what they know.

  8. http://www.theglobeandmail.com…..e12586938/

    So when Obama agreed this week for the first time to send small arms and ammunition to Syrian rebel forces, he had to be almost dragged into the decision at a time when critics, some advisers, and even Bill Clinton were pressing for more action. Coming so late into the conflict, Obama expressed no confidence it would change the outcome, but privately expressed hope it might buy time to bring about a negotiated settlement.

    Such strong and decisive leadership.

    1. Well, he’s probably doing it because it also helps keep ammunition out of the hands of NRA types.

      1. I never thought of that. Seriously.

        There is a severe ammo drought right now, and if it was found that popular calibers were being produced at taxpayer expense and with priority over civilian demands and going to fucking terrorist groups, it would be a big scandal for the Syria-hawks. That could be a huge opening for tea party types over shithead “cons” like McCain in the next couple of elections.

        1. I thought of it as a joke, but yeah, I would not put it past them. Armed Syrian jihadis seem to be preferable to armed American citizens. Reminds me of WWII Lend-Lease, when (some thought) arming the Soviets took precedence over arming the Army.

          1. It doesn’t even have to be a conspiracy. You just have to show that the politicians thought of jihadists before they thought of american taxpayers. Which, if they’re buying up ammo at our cost is explicitly true.

  9. So much social “science” is based on self-reported survey data. It’s worse than useless–it’s actually counter-productive because it gives the illusion of accurately measurable data where no such thing exists.

    In conclusion: Fuck you; cut spending.

    1. We’ve already cut to the bone.
      To. The. Bone.

      1. Then fuck you, lipo spending.

  10. Wouldn’t you want to fatten the little bastards up before you eat them?

    *adjusts monocle

  11. Kids are too fat because of austerity. Remember during the Great Depression when the government bloated up to the size of Jupiter but people were starving in the streets? I rest my case.

  12. I gave up sodas almost two years ago, have mostly moved away from processed meats and fast food, and towards fresh and wholesome stuff, and I’m getting the results I wanted, but I really haven’t bothered to count calories.

    1. Giving up sodas dropped your carb input so much that of course it worked.

      1. Fair enough, and I’ve mostly cut it out, but if they come for my beer there’s a reckoning acoming.

  13. You could argue that 100% of the people who notice the nutritional information use that information to make a decision. It’s just that a majority of people who notice the nutritional information apparently make the decision that the nutritional information isn’t important enough to affect their decision about what food to order.

    Saying that people notice the information but don’t use it if they don’t use it to change their eating habits seems to me to be buying into the argument that only choosing the ‘right’ foods is making an informed choice and that making the ‘wrong’ choice is proof of not making an informed choice. If you aren’t making an informed choice, why then I have a right – if not an obligation – to make sure you are properly informed, don’t I? I will know that you have made an informed choice when you choose to do as I know you should do.

    Eating a triple fatburger after having ignored the nutritional information on a triple fatburger doesn’t mean that I haven’t used the nutritional information, it just means that I have used the nutritional information to decide that the pleasure of eating a triple fatburger outweighs the cost of paying any attention to the nutritional information.

    1. Isn’t this par for course interventionist thinking? Of course they’re pro-freedom, and they’re not interested in impinging anyone’s liberties, just so long as people make the right choices given the information they’re compelled to assimilate.

  14. Prosecuting McDonalds and Burger King so all the lazy fatass children can sit around and play x-box all day is lunacy.
    (present company excluded of course)

    1. Especially since obesity predates McNasty’s.

  15. So, teens don’t make the wisest decisions, especially about their own health? When did this start?

    1. Uh, since people stopped dying before they *were* teens.

    2. So, teens don’t make the wisest decisions, especially about their own health? When did this start?

      Teens?! There a 33-year-old woman down the road who has a special chair that jacks her into her 4-door F-150. Ever seen a 1.5-ton pickup lean? I have.

  16. my roomate’s sister makes $78/hr on the laptop. She has been fired from work for nine months but last month her paycheck was $21857 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Read more here….. http://www.Pro76.com

  17. This kind of reporting highlights the value of Daryll Huff’s How to Lie with Statistics. Progressive government indoctrination that has passed for ‘education’ in the USA for the past century ensures that fewer and fewer American voters can evaluate the credibility of statistics and the studies that produce them.

    As long as the people who butter the researcher’s bread like the answers they report, the details are not really that important. No one will remember in a few days anyway.

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