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Well duh

November 10, 2009

The NY Times has an article comparing two studies done on the effect New York City’s calorie-labeling law has had on people’s food choices. You can read the whole article, but long story short, it hasn’t had a big effect so far.

Really. Color me surprised.

The article points out that in poor communities (where one of the studies focused) people tend to be more concerned with price that calories. Hence the finding that people were getting *more* calories from subway since the law went into effect – a consequence of the five dollar footlong deal, they guess. Otherwise, they note that a lot of people don’t notice the information, but even among those who do, only a small percentage use this information.

Why is this? I don’t know, but since this is the internet I can definitely make random guesses.

1) Not everyone is concerned with some aspect of their weight. If you’re not, then who cares if one latte has 70 more calories than another?
2) As I said in this post, lots of people have absolutely no clue as to the amount of energy they’re using or eating. Calorie counts are meaningless if not in context.
3) People are constantly bombarded with the message that calories don’t matter. It’s the carbs, the chemicals, the blocked chi etc… I would honestly not be shocked to find out that among people who would say they want to change their weight, more than half would think that calories don’t matter.
4) People already have favorites at their regular restaurants/coffee shops. It could be that rather than give up that pumpkin scone, people are trying to compensate elsewhere.

Does this mean that posting calorie information is a bad thing? I don’t think so. Any more than we should stop building sidewalks or cleaning up parks if some studies find that people don’t instantly start walking an extra five miles a day when a new sidewalk is put in.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 11, 2009 9:46 am

    To your list I’d add that a lot of folks (myself included, though I’m getting better about it) have really bought into the all-or-nothing mentality. As in, “well, if I’m going to have a 150-calorie drink, that’s already a lot of calories, so I might as well say f*ck it, and have a 300-calorie drink. And a pastry.” It isn’t rational, but that guilt/rebellion thing never is.

    • November 12, 2009 10:18 am

      Oh yeah, that’s a really common attitude. You know, back when I was still eating meat, I actually really liked mcdonald’s hamburgers. When I ate there I always got a value meal because I figured there was no point in skimping elsewhere since I was being so ‘bad’ by eating that big mac or whatever. Except, of course, that eating just a big mac with water or a diet drink is, calorie-wise, not that much. Like a small-ish meal. We’re so conditioned to categorize foods instead of seeing how they can fit into our particular ways of eating that we often end up sabotaging our own efforts to eat less.

  2. November 19, 2009 5:02 pm

    Ya know, when I walk around Lower Manhattan, I see about 2-3 delis per block that offer “make your own salads.” When I walk around Bushwick or Bed-Stuy or Harlem (all low income areas with mostly people of color, where I work or live), I cannot find a good salad anywhere. Except at the fast food restaurants, and those are not all that good of a quality.

    Sure, calories may be important. But, I think offering high quality fresh produce is much more important.

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