Food Policy

Over at Mark's Daily Apple, there is discussion of those calorie-posting requirements for restaurants.

I have several concerns about these requirements: they are an example of 1) a completely ineffective policy 2) imposed through a mindless requirement on chain-store operators, 3) seemingly ignorant of the results of similar interventions. I think this policy is entirely ineffective, and should be laughed at. Even those who disrespect economic liberty should demand a regulatory policy based on more than the whims, hopes, and dreams of light-weight health lobbyists.

So my comments began "Repeat after me: THIS IS INEFFECTIVE GOVERNMENT POLICY!" And I'd like to expand on them here.

Well, my comments were about the obese. While activists and policymakers do want to modify the food intake of everyone, they justify their interventions as actions taken for the otherwise helpless obese.

My main concern is one I think all should share, regardless of view about the propriety of government intervention in the market: there is no solid evidence that calorie posting is a meaningful private health intervention.

I don't believe there's any good reason to support the notion that the trend of higher obesity rates will be reversed by increasing the supply of nutritional information about prepared restaurant food; there's already plenty of data about raw ingredients out there for anyone really interested in preparing themselves for eating in a complex world.

In particular, the idea that mandating the posting of total calories will change the behavior of people who've demonstrated through their eating habits that they don't otherwise care enough about their health to modify their own diet, is, in my mind, utterly unsound.

This is a particularly unsound idea because (I might be wrong here, but think this is so) there was no measurable effect in reducing obesity since the requirement of nutritional labeling on all those bottled, boxed, bagged, containerized, canned, and jarred foods. If posting calorie data were effective at all, shouldn't we have seen SOME effect?

Again, all I really wanted to point out was that government policy should be based on ideas that have a solid foundation in science, or at least be borne out by recent social experience. By that standard, big-board nutrition labeling is not a start to something bigger, bolder, and badder, it's merely a pointless exercise in information saturation.

I don't have solid evidence, just personal experience, to support my claim of policy ineffectiveness. However, advocates don't even bother to claim they have any evidence whatsoever. In my view, they manner in which this policy is being pursued makes this a first step in the in the entirely wrong direction.

Some people, like me, do use detailed nutritional data to help make some choices, but the availability of the data didn't CAUSE me to want to eat better. I cannot disagree that meal-specific nutritional data expand the meal choices of those dedicated to health maintenance. It appears to me that the calorie-posting requirement is actually going to help the people who need help the least!

In fact, one could sensibly argue that while big-board calorie posting won't lead obese people to modify calorie consumption, it will gradually make them believe that all sources of calories have the same impact on health.

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This page contains a single entry by Kevin published on October 28, 2007 7:55 AM.

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