So this week, we get the news that the policy of forcing fast-food restaurants to prominently post calorie counts for menu items has been a giant bust. A study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and New York City shows that customers in 2007 (before passage of the New York City ordinance requiring counts to be posted) actually consumed fewer calories than customers in 2009 (when the calorie counts were prominently displayed).
Healthy-eating activists (and pushers of that whole obesity-crisis shtick) had predicted that forcing restaurants to display the calorie counts would do just the opposite: That we'd quit eating so damn much if we saw our glorious excess quantified. Instead, the sample of nearly 8,500 people eating in 2009 ordered meals with an average of 846 calories -- 18 calories more than their uneducated 2007 counterparts.
So what gives? Our fellow bloggers over at Jezebel suggest that calorie info just makes people depressed -- that knowledge isn't necessarily power.
We have a different take.
Perhaps this is because we grew up in a large family, surrounded by siblings who were apt to grab the last drumstick while we were still wolfing down our first serving -- thereby leading us to leave the supper table anticipating that we'd be hungry again long before breakfast. Perhaps this is because we have a high metabolism and have learned to eat fairly large meals or risk desperate mid-afternoon snacking.
But take it from this correspondent -- a consumer who actually ate fast food meals in New York City in 2007 and 2009.
We found calorie counts inspiring for what health advocates would surely consider all the wrong reasons. A Junior Bacon Cheeseburger has only 370 calories? Well, perhaps a better choice is the 550-calorie quarter pounder. A McDonald's cheeseburger has only 300 calories? Better get the value meal, where they give you two of 'em!
Now, we don't suggest everyone has our eating habits. (You do not want to come between us and a Big Mac, believe us: It's vaguely appalling.) But we have to wonder if for every person trying to cut back, there's another looking at the menu and sensibly realizing that 370 calories isn't sufficient lunch for someone about to walk from Chelsea to the Upper East Side. Even if the population consists of, say, 10 percent of us calorie hoarders, that would still be enough to cancel out the 10 percent who are actually inspired to eat a bit more sensibly by the new calorie counts and somehow missed the bulletin that fast food is really freakin' bad for you.
That's our two cents. What do you think? Do calorie counts ever inspire you to eat more?
(P.S. There are plenty of news articles out there suggesting that the study shows that the calorie-count experiment has been a success -- simply because customers at three of the fast-food chains surveyed did, in fact, order a tiny bit less. We think this is pure spin; overall, it's clear that customers actually ordered a tiny bit more. So let's call a spade a spade, OK?)