@nytimeswell: After Menu Labels, Parents and Kids Order Same Foods http://nyti.ms/fhtyJ1
File under: the Nutrition-Label Myth and the Calories-In Myth
The linked article, from The New York Times reports on the findings of a study published in the International Journal of Obesity, which demonstrated that while people are well aware of the calorie-counts posted in New York City fast-food restaurants, it hasn’t stopped them from ordering the foods they desire.
Shocker, I know. And as these findings are being reported, “federal officials are writing rules for chain restaurants to post calorie information on their menus and drive-through signs.”
From The Times:
“Brian Elbel, assistant professor of medicine and health policy at the New York University School of Medicine and lead author of the new report, said that the data don’t mean that calorie counts on menus are a waste of time. Instead, he said, the findings suggest that menu labeling needs to be combined with other public policy efforts aimed at improving the nation’s diet.”
Again, the lesson, as always for the conventional wisdom, is to never let go, or rarely question, your crappy hypothesis.
“The findings are similar to those reported in a 2009 Health Affairs study by the same researchers, who found that the ordering habits of 1,156 low-income adults in New York were largely unaffected by the food labeling law.”
So what do we conclude from this? “Just putting the calorie information up there, I think we know now, is not going to be enough,” says Dr. Elbel. Instead of discarding the nutrition-label hypothesis, putting calorie-counts on food is obviously “not enough.”
I share the sentiments of a wise man named Mugatu:
Again, this is what happens when you’re trapped in a false paradigm: you keep piling up a bunch of spurious hypotheses, call the problem “multi-factorial,” and then hope that a giant pile of garbage, when summed, will make a dent in the reduction of the prevalence of obesity and the related diseases.
What was going on 30-40 years ago? We weren’t in times of famine, there were still McDonald’s around every block, we didn’t have nutrition labeling, yet people were much less likely to be obese. Are we arguing that obesity rates would be even higher if we didn’t implement food labeling in 1994?
Actually, a question that should be explored later is this: could the obesity epidemic possibly be any worse than it is today? Time will tell, but imagine if we could take a trip in the DeLorean to 1977, and in this alternate reality, the USDA and government does not step in and tell Americans to eat more carbohydrates and consume less fat. They tell us nothing, other than, say, eat real foods. Would this alternate reality be any worse off than the one we're living in? It's hard to argue that the authorities have done more good than harm. Again, if they didn't spout recommendations every five years, would every adult be overweight and obese, instead of the current figures of 70% of the population?
We’re, in effect, consciously telling people to limit their caloric intake, or semi-starve themselves, which is akin to telling people to limit their body temperature; we’re not thermodynamic black boxes where you dump calories in and it doesn’t affect our physiology or expenditure. We’re biological creatures. If our bodies seem to physiologically require a certain number of calories, it’s going to be a losing battle to consciously control caloric intake in the long-term, and this is reflected in the literature regarding the inefficacy of dieting, which can also be called the Calories-In myth.
Also, we shouldn’t forget that even if your short term decision making is affected by the calorie label next to that double Quarter Pounder - in other words, if any of these studies showed that the calorie-counts were having their desired intent; to count calories while dining-out and choosing lower-calorie options - there is very little evidence to suggest that we don't compensate for this decrease in calories in the long run, or later in the week, or later in the day, or even during our next meal.
The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) went into effect in 1994. The objectives were to improve dietary habits and to decrease obesity and related diseases. How is that working for ya’?
Obesity has nothing to do with nutrition labeling. Or I should say, with almost certainty, increasing food labels has not been an effective way of reducing the obesity epidemic, and it may have contributed to it. Since we started labeling products, the obesity epidemic has skyrocketed. Go to the CDC’s website for example and look at the obesity trends by state in 1994 and again in 2009.
Most of the states in 1994 had less than 14% obesity. In 2009, not one state meets this distinction. We could say that there is a strong positive association between food and menu labels and obesity. In other words, the more nutrition labels we add, the fatter we get.
This most likely has nothing to do with the lack of clarity of the nutrition labels or confusion among consumers. It sounds as if we’re blaming obesity on stupidity, which actually falls in line with the conventional wisdom on behavioral theories of obesity, i.e., it’s gluttony and/or sloth that’s causing the obesity epidemic.
In the recent past, the reason that was bandied about regarding why consumers were not changing their behavior and choosing lower-calorie options was a lack of knowledge and understanding of how food labels work.
Part of the problem is that there is consumer “knowledge” of many of the tenets that were established in the last 50 years regarding total calories, fat, saturated fat, sodium, dietary cholesterol, trans fats, etc., and this knowledge is actually detrimental to their overall health.
I would bet we would be better off getting rid of nutrition labels, stop telling people to eat less fat, and tell them to eat animals and plants for the most part.
I’m not a fan of all the grains, potatoes, pasta, and wheat (I consider them starvation foods), but I would concede that something like the Four Food Groups is a better message to convey to the public than the current recommendations, and would yield better results than all the nutrition labeling.
Meats, Dairy, Grains, Fruits & Vegetables were the basic four. How about the “Terrific Two:” Meats and vegetables should constitute the majority of your diet. You get the adequate nutrition, vitamins, and minerals you need and you don’t have to worry about portion sizes, calories, percentage of calories from fat, etc.
Think about this, Dr. Elbel: I could advise someone to only shop for foods that DON’T have nutrition labels on them (think about it: fruits & vegetables; deli; meat & seafood, basically the coveted perimeter of the grocery store) and they will be better off.
But don’t be fooled, says Dr. Elbel, and guys like Michael Jacobson, nutrition labels are just not enough. Check out this clip from Tom Naughton's Fat Head to help illustrate their points:
Sorry, Tom, the obvious conclusion, is: more taxation and more regulation. That should have us back to pre-McGovern obesity levels in no-time. You remember the era, it's when the government wasn't involved in solving our weight problems. I'm sure that was just a conicidence.
So what else? Should we take the stairs instead of the elevator? Oh, that’s right, we already have a StairWELL to Better Health and Take The Stairs campaigns. I’m sure that’ll do the trick. More on the Calories-Out myth in a later post.
People should be eating the foods they evolved to eat. By including more labeling, it just puts more emphasis on the lunacy of counting calories (and fat grams, and fiber grams, and salt milligrams) and our misguided (at least in the case of nutrition) national obsession with quantity over quality.