nos-trum. pronunciation: \nos'-trum\. noun. Etymology: Latin, neuter of noster our, ours.
1. a medicine of secret composition recommended by its preparer but usually without scientific proof of its effectiveness.
2. a usually questionable remedy or scheme.
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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Calories: Does Knowing "How Many" Affect My Choice?

The Journal, Health Affairs, had an interesting article on calorie labeling back in october of 2009:  "Calorie Labeling And Food Choices: A First Look At The Effects On Low-Income People In New York City."

Many policy makers and politicians have argued that knowledge of caloric content will influence people to eat more sensibly, and therefore have an impact on obesity in the US.  Over 100 bills have been introduced in Congress to address obesity and diet.  Calorie labeling is only one technique among those being proposed to regulate the food industry, but it is a technique that is rapidly expanding.  A New York City ordinance is typical:  fast food restaurants must post calorie labels on their menu boards, and sit-down restaurants must list the calories on the printed menu.  In NYC, the law goes so far as to stipulate that the font and format must be similar to the price or name of the item to which it refers.
How is it all working?  The authors collected information from over 1500 adults at fast food restaurants in low-income, minority New York communities.  This data was then compared to data from a city without such an ordinance, in this case, Newark.
The researchers found that 1 in 4 people said they "were influenced" by the labeling, but there was no effect on the calories consumed. See the following table:
Educating people about the dietary choices they make is not a useless effort, but this study serves to show that simplistic approaches don't give you the desired results.  Health education is a notoriously difficult strategy.  My guess is that 90% of the proposals under consideration
[Like fining restaurants for using salt in cooking, for heaven's sake]
are ineffective at best, and destructive at worst...but in any case brainless.
Opinions are entirely my own.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The key phrase in the study was that they "said" they were influenced by the calorie labeling, not that they "were" influenced. When the actual calories they consumed were looked at, there was no difference. That's the sad part; what people say wasn't backed up by what they did, at least in calories.

Just a personal observation, but I don't go to a fast food place to eat right. I can do that at home. In the case of this study, there's a lot that's unknown. Low-income groups may be differently motivated. Also, just because the diners ate just as many calories doesn't mean they didn't alter their choices: they could have chosen to eat more of a lower calorie food. Unfortunately, it's the total caloric intake that's most closely ;inked to obesity, not whether they were "good" calories or "bad" calories.

So, there's a lot more to be learned here before we know how best to approach nutritional choice and obesity.

Thanks for your comment.

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