Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Whalen on Frieden

As I have been posting, the city has once again tried to enact calorie posting rules for the approximately 2300 fast food restaurants that have helped to revitalize the city's neighborhood economies. Their proliferation in New York is a dramatic example of the success of minority entrepreneurship; and the health commissioner's failure to recognize this goes to the heart of what's wrong with this misguided policy.

The problem is clearly underscored in a trenchant critique from Dr. Elizabeth Whalen in this morning's NY Post. As Whalen correctly points out: "Though the department claims the rules will promote public health, they're really nothing but a spiteful attack on fast-food restaurants."

The reason lies with the incomprehensibility of the plan to the average fast food customer: "There's no evidence the calorie info is of much use to real consumers. Surveys regularly tell us that most people don't have a clue how many calories a day are appropriate for them. So how does a menu-board warning that a cheeseburger supplies 300 calories help them avoid obesity?" The short answer? It doesn't.

As we've said before, something that Whalen reiterates, this is nothing but an expensive experiment that has no useful benefit-and there's absolutely no epidemiological studies that even hint at the policy's potential efficacy. Whalen's to the point: "The Health Department is ordering restaurants to change how they market food and to bear the burden of the expense and confusion this entails - all without any evidence that the move advances public health. The rules simply represent a penalty on the restaurants."

Doc Frieden, however, really doesn't care in his jihad against local entrepreneurs. He has no clue about the kind of business model at work here and believes, just as the mayor does, that he can compel changes in public behavior through enacting expensive and confusing regulations. Here' his naivete on display in this morning's NY Times: "Dr. Frieden said his department’s research showed that consumers often make faulty assumptions about the calorie counts of items on a menu. But when they have the information, he said, they tend to choose food with fewer calories.
As a result of the regulations, set to go into effect on March 31, Dr. Frieden predicted that some restaurants will eliminate some of their offerings, like appetizers that top 2,000 calories."

First of all, the department didn't do any research-certainly none that would survive peer review. It did some self-serving questionnaires that failed to demonstrate much last summer, and the commissioners prescience about how the industry will respond to his cockamamie rules beggars credulity. If left to their own devices the team of Frieden and Bloomberg would be dictating everything that New Yorkers put into their mouths.

So we now have a health policy that is so anti-business that it mirrors the anti-capitalist ideologues at the CSPI in Washington. Here's what their spokesperson told the NY Post this morning: "It's going to get a lot easier to make informed choices at New York City's chain restaurants this spring," said Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest."

No it won't, but the health ideologues don't really care. There effort is designed to force folks to be healthy; and if they kill local business in the process? Well. as Lenin said, in order to make an omelet you have to crack a few eggs.