Our government’s influence over menu choices is causing concern

Feb 24, 2014 | Articles

Many Americans are probably unaware of the new menu labeling regulations President Obama is spearheading through his “Obamacare” program – unless you’re part of the foodservice industry.

In an effort to combat rising healthcare costs due to obesity in children and adults, these regulations mandate that restaurants include the calorie count of the items they serve. While it’s a noble effort, it begs the question: is it really the responsibility of our government to influence our nutritional choices and eating habits?

Obviously, many restaurant owners are less than enthusiastic over the newly proposed regulations - especially those needing to replace their existing menu boards with either new static boards (updated calorie counts included) or digital systems which allow for continual updating. Either way, replacing menu boards can be a costly venture.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which will be implementing these new provisions, estimates that first-year compliance could cost as much as $537 million for businesses regulated under the ruling.

With little to no hard data to substantiate the new regulations, restaurants are leery to comply…and with good reason.

A recent study was conducted on selected adults in Philadelphia, PA, where calorie labeling has already been mandated. The study found there was no change whatsoever in fast-food consumption; in fact, two-thirds of McDonald’s customers didn’t even notice the new labeling was in place. Similar results were obtained from restaurants in New York City, where the same study was conducted by an NYU Medical School professor.

And, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, it seems even our own government agencies aren’t completely sold on this idea: “The mixed results of these and other small-scale menu labeling studies suggest it is still too early to tell how restaurant calorie labeling will affect caloric intake.”

On one hand, this change plays to the psychology of the mind. Think about how our brain responds to retail prices reading $99 rather than $100. Somehow the brain actually believes it’s getting a better deal.

Which begs the question, in the absence of calorie counts on menus, is it possible that our brain doesn’t think we’re eating all that bad?

On the other hand, isn’t life all about personal responsibility and choices? Isn’t it the job of an adult to be responsible for him or her own self – and set good examples for their children?

Bottom line: burdening restaurants to include calorie counts on menus is probably not going to stop people from pairing a doughnut with their morning coffee or french fries with their Big Mac.

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