Video: Calorie counts on menus don’t change behavior

posted at 11:36 am on January 19, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

It’s been almost a year since we discovered one of the surprises in ObamaCare that Nancy Pelosi promised we’d find once we passed the bill — a new federal law requiring all restaurant chains of 20 or more locations to put calorie counts on its menus. The mandate will creates a huge cost burden for restaurants not just in testing and printing costs for initial compliance, but every time the restaurant wants to add a new item to its repertoire. The extra cost will be worth it, say many, because it will change American eating habits once the benighted consumers realize the high amount of calories they consume when eating outside the home.

But does it change eating habits, and did consumers labor under the impression that a double-cheese pizza was somehow health food? CNN reports on a new study that says the menu mandate won’t change anything:

“If people are going to Taco Time, they’re going to eat tacos!” Precisely. Taco Time provides a wide variety of menu choices, some with relatively low calorie counts, so it’s not as if consumers don’t have a choice. When they choose their food, though, the calorie counts don’t really enter into their decision — or, more accurately, consumers already understand what those choices mean and make them anyway.

CNN does a terrible job in presenting this, because rather than just speculate that the 960-calorie choice is “all there is,” they could have just checked Taco Time’s website and looked at the nutritional information. In fact, Taco Time offers a wide variety of choices to its customers, and even in burritos the calorie choices range from a Crispy Pinto Bean (360 calories) to the Big Juan with Pork (650 calories).   Customers can also buy a Crisp Ground Beef Taco (260 calories) instead of a Super Soft Ground Beef Taco (590 calories).   Instead of choosing the large cheddar fries (700 calories), they can order the Mexi-Rice (80 calories).  The fact that ordering behavior doesn’t change between the two doesn’t relate to a lack of choice, but to the fact that customers go to Taco Time for a specific experience and know exactly the nature of the food they eat.

Similarly, people in Minnesota have a wide range of choices when they go to Davanni’s, a local chain of 21 restaurants that now has to deal with a menu mandate that doesn’t change behavior at all.  Davanni’s not only didn’t hide their calorie counts, they built an on-line interactive website to help its customers determine how their ordering choices would impact their caloric intake.  Instead of spending $200,000 on business expansion, they have to spend it on reprinting all of its menus and menu boards when they could have just put a computer terminal on their counters for about $600 a store.  In April 2010, I interviewed Davanni’s VP Ken Schelper to discuss the impact of the federal menu mandate, and especially how it puts smaller operators at Davanni’s at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace:


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But the point stands….anyone ordering the Triple Whopper with Cheese, large fries white extra salt and large coke doesn’t care what the calorie count is.

search4truth on January 19, 2011 at 4:56 PM

What about the ones who order a Triple Whopper with Cheese, large fries white extra salt and large diet coke, eh?

BobMbx on January 19, 2011 at 5:14 PM

Video: Calorie counts on menus don’t change behavior

Try ordering a Frappucino at Starbucks after looking at the calorie count. Seriously, try it.

crr6 on January 19, 2011 at 11:45 AM

Only for the dimwitted. If I waddle or jog into whereever and order a tall sugared and creamed coffee then I expect it to have a boatload of calories and is probably not good for me.

Then again, I have a couple of brain cells. Laws like these are for people who don’t and need to be reminded to wear their helmets outside.

Or for people too lazy and stupid to do their own thinking and need the government to do the work for them.

Either way….

kim roy on January 19, 2011 at 5:42 PM

What about the ones who order a Triple Whopper with Cheese, large fries white extra salt and large diet coke, eh?

BobMbx on January 19, 2011 at 5:14 PM

As someone who has a diet pop when eating salad or a triple whopper w/cheese and fries and then a large sundae for dessert, it’s more for the taste than the calorie counts. There’s a difference and most diet pop drinkers will tell you that they don’t like the taste of regular pop.

kim roy on January 19, 2011 at 5:44 PM

Sorry, but this is where I laugh. Just exactly what did you think you were getting when you ordered an ICE CREAM SHAKE LOADED WITH OREO COOKIES from Jack-in-the-Box BEFORE you saw the calorie count?!? You thought that was only but SO bad for you or something?

The problem lies within the fact that most people don’t do anything to burn said calories. I mean, do you think that Phelps, who engulfs over 12,000 calories a day, really gives a rats a$$ about the calorie count on fast food menus?

Mix in a salad and break a sweat once in awhile and you’ll be fine. My sister-in-law lost 60+ lbs in 10 months by cutting out Dr. Pepper, eating a salad for lunch and walking once a day.

Sponge on January 19, 2011 at 1:25 PM

I’m glad you find that amusing ,and I’m amused myself that you’re equating professional athlete Michael Phelps with me or the average office jockey on lunch. Stellar comparison – you really should pat yourself on the back for that (if you havent already).

An Oreo shake from Jack-N-The-Box was/is listed at 1400 calories (I didnt know that)
An Orea McFlurry from McDonald’s was/is about 600 calories (I didnt know that).

If I want a creamy snack on a hot day, I could opt for the McFlurry option and consume almost half the calories. That’s useful to know. But uh, glad you’re so amused at what (you thought) I was thinking about my choices of junk food splurges. LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL.

Jeddite on January 19, 2011 at 5:52 PM

Sorry, but this is where I laugh. Just exactly what did you think you were getting when you ordered an ICE CREAM SHAKE LOADED WITH OREO COOKIES from Jack-in-the-Box BEFORE you saw the calorie count?!? You thought that was only but SO bad for you or something?

The problem lies within the fact that most people don’t do anything to burn said calories. I mean, do you think that Phelps, who engulfs over 12,000 calories a day, really gives a rats a$$ about the calorie count on fast food menus?

Mix in a salad and break a sweat once in awhile and you’ll be fine. My sister-in-law lost 60+ lbs in 10 months by cutting out Dr. Pepper, eating a salad for lunch and walking once a day.

Sponge on January 19, 2011 at 1:25 PM

I’m glad you find that amusing ,and I’m amused myself that you’re equating professional athlete Michael Phelps with me or the average office jockey on lunch. Stellar comparison – you really should pat yourself on the back for that (if you havent already).

An Oreo shake from Jack-N-The-Box was/is listed at 1400 calories (I didnt know that)
An Orea McFlurry from McDonald’s was/is about 600 calories (I didnt know that).

If I want a creamy snack on a hot day, I could opt for the McFlurry option and consume almost half the calories. That’s useful to know. But uh, glad you’re so amused at what (you thought) I was thinking about my choices of junk food splurges. LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL.

Jeddite on January 19, 2011 at 5:52 PM

Or if calories is your main concern, then have a yogurt.

The point is ice cream with a boatload of sugar and other crud in it is still going to be calorie-laden. You’re just arguing at the level of badness.

Most reasonable people know that eating a yogurt over a milkshake is the better choice calorie wise. They accept that it’s not good for them and is going to be a calorie dump and have it anyways.

Most dieters already know and make the tradeoff to save a couple of calories.

What people are tired of is pandering to the lowest common denominator – those that refuse to think for themselves and can’t go to a library (free) or use the internet (free in libraries and other places or come with their super deluxe cell phone plans) to find out for themselves and expect the TAXPAYER to do the heavy lifting for them.

Or just the government who wants to be mommy and daddy, again, on the TAXPAYER dime for people who don’t need or want it.

kim roy on January 19, 2011 at 6:01 PM

Or if calories is your main concern, then have a yogurt.

The point is ice cream with a boatload of sugar and other crud in it is still going to be calorie-laden. You’re just arguing at the level of badness.

Perhaps calories arent my main concern, or perhaps I’d like something more along the lines of soft-serve ice cream than a yogurt. A person doesnt need to be a rigid calorie-counter (which Im not) to find the calorie count of food useful (which I do).

“Arguing at the level of badness”? What does this even mean (to you?).

Most reasonable people know that eating a yogurt over a milkshake is the better choice calorie wise. They accept that it’s not good for them and is going to be a calorie dump and have it anyways.

Most dieters already know and make the tradeoff to save a couple of calories.

Ok, fantastic. Useful generalization. A yogurt has less calories than a milkshake, so… what exactly? There’s no valuable information in listing the calorie count of milk shake? Depending on the type of yogurt, a banana has fewer calories still. So, uh, uh, uh… “PEOPLE WHO LIKE THE CALORIE COUNTS ON MENUS ARE STUPID” (to paraphrase a couple people who’ve opined on this topic).

What people are tired of is pandering to the lowest common denominator – those that refuse to think for themselves and can’t go to a library (free) or use the internet (free in libraries and other places or come with their super deluxe cell phone plans) to find out for themselves and expect the TAXPAYER to do the heavy lifting for them.

Or just the government who wants to be mommy and daddy, again, on the TAXPAYER dime for people who don’t need or want it.

You do realize that it is entirely possible to find listing the calorie counts on menus useful, but without agreeing that the federal government should mandate that food eateries do so under penalty of … whatever fees non-compliance incurs, right?

If this information was no longer mandated by the federal government, do you think the big fast food chains would remove the information altogether? (I don’t – honest)

Jeddite on January 19, 2011 at 6:17 PM

ME:
Or if calories is your main concern, then have a yogurt.

The point is ice cream with a boatload of sugar and other crud in it is still going to be calorie-laden. You’re just arguing at the level of badness.

JEDDITE:
Perhaps calories arent my main concern, or perhaps I’d like something more along the lines of soft-serve ice cream than a yogurt. A person doesnt need to be a rigid calorie-counter (which Im not) to find the calorie count of food useful (which I do).

That’s fine. People have suggested that pamphlets be put out or a notice be put up in a few places (which I have seen in some of my local McD’s). No one’s saying the information should be hidden.

“Arguing at the level of badness”? What does this even mean (to you?).

I was referring to your comment about 1200 versus 600 calories and choosing the 600 calorie one. You are saying that it’s useful to you as it will have you choose the “least of the bad”, assuming calories are bad. In your example they are as you choose the lesser of the two perhaps over what you may want, all things being equal.

ME:
Most reasonable people know that eating a yogurt over a milkshake is the better choice calorie wise. They accept that it’s not good for them and is going to be a calorie dump and have it anyways.

Most dieters already know and make the tradeoff to save a couple of calories.

JEDDITE:
Ok, fantastic. Useful generalization. A yogurt has less calories than a milkshake, so… what exactly? There’s no valuable information in listing the calorie count of milk shake? Depending on the type of yogurt, a banana has fewer calories still. So, uh, uh, uh… “PEOPLE WHO LIKE THE CALORIE COUNTS ON MENUS ARE STUPID” (to paraphrase a couple people who’ve opined on this topic).

I’m not going to comment on what others say as I have no special insight into why they chose particular words, but I say that because people have the opportunity to get this information ON THEIR OWN. It shouldn’t require a special law, which will require enforcement to do this. People should be expected to get information that is important to them on their own, which can be found online and actually in most restaurants, if they ask. If it is so important to consumers and the restaurants won’t provide them, then GO SOMEWHERE ELSE. They’ll either provide it on their own or go out of business.

Why does this require a new and shiny law? Because 10% of the population can’t find this out or ask for themselves?

ME:
What people are tired of is pandering to the lowest common denominator – those that refuse to think for themselves and can’t go to a library (free) or use the internet (free in libraries and other places or come with their super deluxe cell phone plans) to find out for themselves and expect the TAXPAYER to do the heavy lifting for them.

Or just the government who wants to be mommy and daddy, again, on the TAXPAYER dime for people who don’t need or want it.

JEDDITE:
You do realize that it is entirely possible to find listing the calorie counts on menus useful, but without agreeing that the federal government should mandate that food eateries do so under penalty of … whatever fees non-compliance incurs, right?

If this information was no longer mandated by the federal government, do you think the big fast food chains would remove the information altogether? (I don’t – honest)

Jeddite on January 19, 2011 at 6:17 PM

I think it’s useful and if people want it, then they should have it, but it should be a business choice. If a business wants to go against the desires of its customer base, then let it fail.

I don’t think there’s many arguing that it should be hidden away in a locked room, but that it’s not something that the government should get involved in.

Personally I wonder why the TAXPAYERS expected to fund what essentially is a business choice and babysit people who can’t think/research their eating habits?

If you (in the generic sense) want to know, ask. If the business won’t provide information, GO ELSEWHERE. Simple, easy and free. No laws required. Why force businesses to spend money they may not have to babysit the population, most of which don’t care or already know?

It seems people and especially the government seem to forget on occasion that the consumer can always choose NO and go elsewhere for whatever reason. At least for now.

kim roy on January 19, 2011 at 6:46 PM

Sorry for the strange formatting. It seems my comments indented and the entire article quoted.

kim roy on January 19, 2011 at 6:47 PM

Join Weight Watchers if you want to lose weight. (I lost 6 lbs this week using WW.) I don’t mind menus containing calorie counts but it should have been phased in over 3 years or so. Once the old menus wear out you can print the new ones.

All calories are not created equal. 100 calories of celery or turkey meat is much much better for you than 100 calories of cheese cake.

Mojave Mark on January 19, 2011 at 8:04 PM

cigarette packages basically say that you’re an idiot and these will fuckin kill you….. but people hate to read. maybe if it were in 3D and they could put on cool little shades…..

Opinionnation on January 19, 2011 at 10:05 PM

By following the Weight Watchers points system, I’ve slowly lost a bit over 30 unneeded pounds — but I still chow down on whatever I like from time to time. Therefore, I appreciate knowing the nutritional information, so I can plan my splurges (although I’m not immune to snack attacks).

I don’t go to Weight Watchers meetings any more, just do the program on my own, but I always chuckle when I remember this:

At one meeting, our “leader” was showing us how to figure the portion sizes of foods, and they all seemed to be veggies. “A cup of broccoli is about the size of,” etc.

One woman in our group said, “We aren’t here because we eat too many vegetables.”

KyMouse on January 20, 2011 at 11:09 AM

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