Calorie Counts on Menus Don’t Work

Obamacare mandates that chain restaurants post calorie counts on menu boards. This is an example of “nudging.” Wouldn’t it be great if America’s obesity epidemic could be solved by just ensuring people are better informed about how many calories are in those French fries?

Well, the evidence is in, and calorie counts are ineffective. Dr. Aaron Carroll tells the story at his always informative and engaging Healthcare Triage YouTube channel:

I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Carroll recently at the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation’s Health Care Digital Awards dinner, where he won well deserved recognition. All I can add to Dr. Carroll’s explanation of the evidence is an argument for why the government finds this nudging irresistible.

Dr. Carroll would likely disagree with me, but the evidence he cites actually supports the effectiveness of calorie counts, just not for their stated purpose. Calorie counts are very beneficial to the state and its interest groups.

First, they make work for public health inspectors and their ilk, who get to spend their days ensuring the menu boards are up to date, which is a lot easier work than inspecting for actual public health hazards.

Second, because calorie counts cannot be very accurate without significant compliance costs, the mandate opens the door to trial lawyers to sue restaurants for making false claims about how many calories are in their menu items.

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  1. Brian Williams. says:

    You are right on the mark, John. A federal government powerful enough to reach down from Mount Olympus to regulate restaurant menus is more about control than public health.

    To wit, even though as few as 2% of pizzas are ordered using an in-store menu, the federal government still requires pizza parlors to list calorie information on their in-store menus.