Hit & Run

Food Labels Will Make Eating Up to $5.27 Billion Less Pleasurable Over the Next 20 Years, Sez FDA

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Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published elaborate new regulations about food labeling, as required by one of the more obscure sections of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare. Tucked inside those regulations were the results of a study done about the costs of the new labeling rules.

On the upside, the government calculated, labeling would likely reduce obesity and diabetes. (Though Reason's own Jacob Sullum has called that claim into question, citing research that calorie labeling may not change behavior very much at all.) But on the downside, Reuters reports, the FDA notes that

consumers will suffer up to $5.27 billion in "lost pleasure" over 20 years when calorie counts on restaurant menus discourage people from ordering french fries, brownies and other high-calorie favorites.

Here's how the math works: 

The agency also put a dollar value on the lost enjoyment consumers might feel if the calorie figures made them avoid certain foods, such as an 800-calorie brownie, in favor of, say, a 100-calorie apple. The calculation does not include any gain in immediate pleasure if the consumer enjoys the apple more than the brownie or feels virtuous for healthier eating.

The agency's economists estimated the lost pleasure at $2.2 billion to $5.27 billion over 20 years. That range reflects the imprecise science of assigning dollar values to lost enjoyment, they explained. They then subtracted those sums from the rule's estimated benefits, cutting them significantly.

The FDA has applied similar analysis in the past to e-cigarettes.

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