FDA Plan to Make Americans Slimmer Will Reduce Fresh Food Options

Mandate for more nutritional labeling comes with a hefty price tag.


Michael J Bennett / Wikimedia Commons

On Thursday, hundreds of millions of Americans risked obesity, heart disease and indigestion by eating large quantities of food with no precise knowledge of the caloric content. If many of them felt regret on Friday, it was not because they were duped into overeating by the absence of nutritional data.

This may seem odd to the federal government, which has decreed that chain restaurants, convenience stores, vending machines and groceries shall provide information that most people don't care about and won't heed. The Food and Drug Administration acted on a provision of the Affordable Care Act mandating more nutritional labeling, and it took an aggressive interpretation of its authority: The mandate also includes movie theaters, vending machines and bars.

Even supporters were stunned by the FDA's ambition. "I'm amazed," New York University nutrition professor Marion Nestle told The New York Times. "It never occurred to me that alcohol would make it in." Now when you start knocking back mojitos during happy hour, you'll be able to calculate the exact impact on your waistline.

The FDA rule rests on a faith that the truth will make you slim. Advocates of this approach, the most notable being former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, think unwise eating habits stem from insufficient transparency on the part of food providers, which can be overcome by rules forcing them to lift the veil.

Let the agency speak for itself, in a parody of bureaucratic logic worthy of The Onion. "Consumers can systematically make suboptimal dietary choices because they discount future health consequences relative to immediate benefits more than they would if they chose according to their underlying or true preferences, leading them to regret their choices at a later date," it says.

Interference from Washington is essential, the FDA argues, because "changes in labeling may increase internalization of future costs into current decision-making by making the long-term health consequences of consumer food choices more salient and by providing contextual cues of food consumption."

A simpler way to put this is that people often eat and drink things they find appealing and only later wish they hadn't—which doesn't mean they wouldn't do exactly the same thing if they had to do it over again.

Or, for that matter, if they had more information. Under Bloomberg, chain restaurants in New York had to put calorie information on menus, but consumers mostly tuned it out.

Sara Bleich, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health—yes, that Bloomberg—says the latest research indicates that most customers at these restaurants don't even notice the calorie counts. Of those who do, she says, "a lot are not changing behavior."

"Some studies show a positive effect"—meaning diners consume fewer calories—"some show no effect, and some show a negative effect," she told me. How does Bleich (who favors the new rule) explain this? "When people make choices about food, they're focusing on price, convenience and taste. Health is a secondary concern."

But more information is always good, right? Not necessarily. Complying with the regulations will cost businesses money. The Food Marketing Institute (FMI), which represents grocery stores, puts the tab at $1 billion in the first year alone. Those costs will eventually be borne by consumers.

It's not the only price they'll pay. "This is going to take away from anything that's freshly made in the store because the costs involved will be so high," the FMI's Robert Rosado told The Wall Street Journal. "You're going to lose fresh choices."

In 2011, opposing the mandate for grocery stores, the Kroger Company said its chefs often "use different ingredients based on what is seasonal or in stock. It is not unusual for ingredients to change regularly. The restaurant menu labeling rule would render that nearly impossible."

The need for federal intervention is nonexistent because diners already have an array of options in where to get their food. Some restaurants already provide these calorie counts because they think consumers want them. The food sellers that don't apparently think their customers are not interested.

The FDA could confirm their hypothesis is correct by noting that these establishments do, after all, still have customers. Instead it and Congress have decided to foist information on people who show no desire to acquire it or pay for it.

The agency has fantasies that its rule will curb the appetites of American diners. The appetites of government, meanwhile, will not be restrained.

NEXT: Long Fingers of the Law

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  1. Am I the only one getting Deja Vu?

    1. Leftovers. Ugh!!

  2. For Thanksgiving I had steak enchiladas with sour cream and a couple stouts.Beats turkey

    1. You, sir, are nothing more than a scoundrel and a rogue.

      1. yes I am,but I'm a very good cook. Now,what to have for Christmas and New years?

        1. Toutiere for Christmas, and Chinese takeout for New Years.

          1. I'm leaning towards chateaubriand for Christmas,not sure about New Year

            1. I find that cut to be overrated.

              1. I like to make it now and then with roasted potato's ,onions and baby carrots.

              2. I like to make it now and then with roasted potato's ,onions and baby carrots.

                1. was that second post a 'leftover'?

  3. " The Food and Drug Administration acted on a provision of the Affordable Care Act mandating more nutritional labeling,..."

    Keep digging in the ACA. There's gotta be a pony in there somewhere.

    1. Found it - A provision allowing for the substitution of horsemeat in grade F ground 'beef'.

      1. It also allows Malk (packed with Vitamin R) as an alternative to Milk.

        1. Well, at least its not rat milk. The ACA stipulates dog or higher.

      2. More testicles means more iron.

  4. A Chapman article without a denunciation of Israel?

    1. I'm more amazed he didn't get a swipe at Republicans in there or a good old fashioned Obama fellating.

    2. Chapman, Richman...all you people look alike.

  5. Instead it and Congress have decided to foist information on people who show no desire to acquire it or pay for it.

    It's all about control.

  6. Telling people what they should or should not eat is all fine and dandy until some bureaucrat tells a cop, "I think you've had enough doughnuts." Blood will run in the streets.

    1. More blood than usual, you mean.

  7. As if the f*$king FDA, or anyone, knows what healthy eating is anyway. Increasingly the evidence, you know, science, indicates that calories are much less important than the actual nutritional content, i.e.; carbs, fat, protein, of the food.

    1. Never let facts get in the way of consensus.

  8. Sara Bleich ... says the latest research indicates that most customers at these restaurants don't even notice the calorie counts.

    Then we had jolly well better use strobe lights to highlight the counts *and* announce them continually and loudly over the restaurant PA systems.

    Also, how many (other) Mad magazine fans read that as "Sara *Blech*"?

    1. I did.

      * hangs head in shame *

    2. Just require reading and signing a consent form before being handed a menu. The bureaucrats will eventually realize people will sign without reading, so they will require that menu orders include repeating their calorie counts.

  9. As I've said before, this is all about shaming the plebes. High end establishments won't face the regulation.

    When this fails to alter the plebes' behavior (and it will fail), we'll see a tax.

    1. And the tax will be justified by saying that people need to be discouraged from unhealthy behavior because, with government healthcare, we ALL pay the price when people are ill. Same argument that is used for alcohol and cigarette taxes.

  10. I've said it before and I'll say it again. This country is full of neo-puritans! How many people go to a restaurant to "refuel?" People go out to eat for many reasons: to celebrate an occasion, to eat something they can't make themselves, to try new things, to - yes - spoil themselves with something that tastes really good, etc.

    But I like the opening paragraph of this article because it looks at the issue "from 30,000 feet." That is, it reminds people that the general public gets along just fine day after day without outside interference. We libertarians need to do this more often, rather than letting the opposition draw us into arguments where the forest gets lost in the trees. As with drug prohibition, our first question when confronted with yet another mandate is to ask, "where do you get the right to tell me what I can or cannot do?"

    1. "where do you get the right to tell me what I can or cannot do?"

      Majority! Democracy! SOSHUL KONTRAKT!

  11. Slightly OT. I spent an hour on thanksgiving being lectured about nutrition and diet, by a woman that weighs 400 fucking pounds. I kept looking for any sign of self awareness, but have yet to see any.

    1. Same sort of thing with my sister-in-law who is always eating "healthy food" with whole grains.

      And she's terribly overweight.

      While my wife (her sister) is - in comparison - thin. But we're evil and destined for an early death for eating lots 'n' lots of meat.

      1. The funniest part was later on when(after eating 3 plates of ham and dressing smothered in gravy) she wanted someone to drive to the store to get her a diet Dr pepper because our tea "had too much sugar in it."

    2. It's not her fault! She has a glandular issue!

      1. The mouth is not a gland.

  12. if you want to reduce obesity, stop subsidizing corn and other crops. Let food prices rise to where the market wants them to be.

    1. especially sugar

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  15. Hey, has anyone noticed that rich Americans tend to be the fittest and poor Americans tend to be the fattest? Weird--you'd think poor people would want personal trainers and gym memberships like everyone else, but instead they sit at home and watch tv when they're not working their newly minted part-time jobs.

    The obvious solution to the problem of obesity among the poor is to raise the price of food via regulatory harassment. That'll solve the problem for sure.

    1. Hell, no, Knarf! The 'obvious solution' out of DC and the WH would be to start a new 'cellphones program for the poor "fat Americans"' in which they'd all be given "free" memberships to fitness centers and "free" sessions with trainers until their BMI's are in the 25-range or so!

      And "the rich" can "afford to pay for it," right, Chairman Obama?

      ... just looking at what the Fitness Center Lobby will be suggesting in the near future. Follow the money...

  16. I suppose one hand doesn't know what the other is doing? Recently I was reading the minutes of an FDA meeting on the approval of growing/creating vaccines from human cancer tumors and how they were going to address the OBVIOUS concerns which people would have over this. It's more COST EFFECTIVE to pHARMaceutical companies over using animal materials you see. (Why we would want monkey, bird or any other DNA mixed into injectables let alone human cancer cells, is beyond me) and they even discussed how they DO NOT KNOW how many people will end up developing cancer due to such vaccines but who cares right? The collateral damage will allow them to better understand and they absolutely stated as much! One Dr. Present outright stated he would simply avoid telling patients to avoid any issues around concern. The FDA is as trustworthy as any other corporate driven mechanism. They serve themselves and their agendas- PERIOD.

  17. The FDA approved high fructose corn syrup which causes triple weight gain over real sugars. No doubt GMO corn is being used. The FDA is here to serve the controllers not to protect our health. If you believe that, as they jokingly say I've got some land down in Florida.....

    1. No doubt.

  18. here is a free diet tip,

    never quench thirst with a beverage with sugar in it. Sugar disolved in a fluid is absorbed rapidly and causes quick spikes in blood sugar (which is why school nurses keep Hawaian Punch handy for hypoglycemic diabetics) high blood sugar causes you to feel thirsty (a warning sign of Hyperglycemia in diabetics).

    1. and high fructose corn syrup is sugar

  19. Since it's kind of topical, I'll tell my 'fat story.'

    Early in 2013, as I approached terminal fatness at 307 pounds, I signed up for a bariatric surgery program.

    By NOT drinking water during meals OR for half an hour before OR after meals...
    And chewing every mouthful of food at least 30 times, or 'til it was beaten to a pulp in my mouth, before swallowing...
    And cutting down on all carbohydrates...

    I lost 55 pounds by the time the operation took place one year ago, on 12/17/13. My portion size for a normal dinner went from a 9" dinner plate to a 6" salad plate to the saucer-sized dish that sits under a coffee cup.

    And I never felt 'starved.' Lots of protein, low carbs, lots of liquids, and today I'm in the 172-pound range. Long-term goal is closer to 165 pounds.

    I've lost more weight than several friends WEIGH. And feel great. Knee joints don't hurt any more, and my wife and I pay our own way to a local fitness center AND trainer to help us rebuild lost muscle mass.

    Screw the FDA, M and O in the WH, and deBlasio and Bloomberg's desire to control our lives and our diets.

    And, NO, there's no get-rich-quick URL or scamming link in this post... I hope nobody's disappointed with that... 🙂

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