Calorie Counts on Restaurant Menus Don’t Change Behavior

When I was on a working trip to New York City, some of my staff and I popped into a very lovely open-air sort of restaurant for lunch.  The menu was huge in size (I always wonder how they have all that food on hand), and I noticed something I had never, ever seen before:  calorie counts between the description of the food and the price!

I read each and every calorie count and was shocked at how unbelievably caloric many of the foods were that I had thought were healthy.  An appetizer of fried calamari had more calories than one should have in a whole day!  Even the veggie meals were stuffed with extra calories from oil, cheese and sauces.  Oh my!

Talk about being “scared straight,” like those kids in front of convicts who warn them to clean up their acts.  I immediately selected the healthiest thing I could find (boring, but healthy), ending up with a turkey sandwich on rye with lettuce and tomato – no mayo and no dressing, but with some salt, because I normally have low blood pressure.  I give callers high blood pressure, but mine is usually low. 

New York City was the first place in the country, I believe, to require calorie posting.  What have we learned from this experiment?

Researchers at New York University and Yale discovered that, although 9 out of 10 people who saw the calorie counts claimed they “made healthier choices as a result,” when the researchers checked the receipts afterward, they found that people, had, in fact, ordered slightly more calories than the typical customer had before the labeling law went into effect in July, 2008.

The lead research scientist said, “I think it does show us that labels are not enough.”  What?  What else do you want to do?  Send in the calorie police?  On cityfile.com, someone made a suggestion that restaurants could have scales for people to weigh themselves before sitting down to dinner (ohhhh, what  rude reminder!) or they should post pictures of what you’re going to look like if you have that lasagna in addition to  bread, butter or olive oil, a big salad with a cup of dressing and then cheesecake to wrap it up!

So, if calorie postings have no impact, except for the people who already are careful and appropriate in their healthy food choices, then what is the point of continuing them?  I still think it’s a good idea to continue.  Perhaps with patience, we will see people care about their bodies and their health as much as their family, friends and relatives do, and as much as the taxpayers who are not overweight and are forced to be burdened by the rising health costs brought on by illnesses associated with obesity.