Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Heavy-Handed Calorie Reprise

The City Room blog is reporting on the second effort by the Department of Health to impose a menu labeling scheme on some local restaurants-the first such attempt fell by the judicial waste side in September. As the blog points out: "Then, in September, a United States District Court judge struck down the rule, saying the way it was worded conflicted with federal regulations. But the judge, Richard J. Howell, provided suggestions in his decision for ways the city could avoid running afoul of federal law, and city officials vowed to do so.

And now they have done just that, with the same uninformed commentary by self-appointed guardians of the public health who no zero about fast food restaurants and, less understandably, apparently are ignorant of some basic health issues. Here's what one such expert told the hearing held yesterday: “It is a common-sense measure that poses no risk to anyone,” said Amy J. Schwartz, executive director of the Public Health Association of New York City.
Ms. Schwartz told the hearing panel that studies have shown people eating outside the home consume 15 percent fewer calories when they are given the calorie count of menu items."

That, my friends, is an absolute lie! It is, however, quite fair in the minds of the advocates to lie as long as it is deemed to be in a good cause. There are no peer-reviewed studies that indicate that folks are consuming less when their made aware of the calories they're eating. And the only study done in New York City was done by the DOH itself.

What did that study "find?" It found that consumers at Subway! supposedly consumed 50 less calories when the calorie counts were made available. 50-at a restaurant that markets its healthy alternative status (leaving aside the fact that the study was done by the very department seeking to impose the menu rules).

The fact is that there are no social science studies that give any degree of confidence about the efficacy of what the department of health is doing. There are some studies that do show that consumers, when they are informed about calorie counts, actually choose the higher calorie items. assuming a more tasty alternative in their choice.

So, once again, the city is performing a social experiment at the expense of local restaurant owners. No harm, Ms Schwartz? The loss of local business, and the potential loss of employment could be a serious harm to neighborhood economies; but the DOH is undeterred and hasn't bothered to do any cost/benefit analysis, so sure are they in their own rectitude.

Hopefully, the industry will also challenge this rule as successfully as it did for the first. Heaven protect us from a government imbued with a sense of its own benevolence.