Thursday, May 01, 2008

Confusing Calorie Counting

The NY Times' City Room blog has an excellent take on the city's successful defense of its calorie posting regulation. From the post, it's clear that pretty soon confusion will reign since the complexity of this kind of posting is obviously lost on Commissar Frieden. As the City Room points out: "In theory, the calorie listings are supposed to be listed with the same prominence as prices."

But when you go to the various web sites you quickly begin to realize just how difficult this task will be-and just how confusing it will be to even the most knowledgeable consumers: "To compare an area where there are not given standards to post nutritional information, City Room did a brief survey of the company Web sites. We found found 1) horrifying calorie numbers for items (750 calories for a venti strawberries & crème frappuccino blended crème from Starbucks, 1310 calories for a large prime rib ranchero with cheese and dressing)."

The fact of the matter, however, is that this web level depth of info will not be possible for the menu boards at Starbucks or McDonald's; since the multiple possible combinations can't all fit in the space that most outlets have (if you examine the Starbucks nutritional pamphlet, it runs for pages and reads like an introductory chemistry text).

Which means that all of the postings will have to be truncated and, therefore, confusing to the customer. The twenty different kinds of tacos will have to be listed as a range (400-2000 calories?), as will the numerous possible frappaccino selections at Starbucks.

Interestingly enough, the best nutritional web info was found at the sites of those fast food stores that Frieden has been most scornful of. The Times found, "that some of the companies that have been most resistant about the posting have the most easily accessible nutritional information: McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC."

But leave it to the Commissar to put the most demonic anti-business spin on all of this: "In a statement, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the city’s health commissioner, said, “McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts and the other big chains that haven’t yet listed calories as required by the Health Code have run out of stalling tactics. Some chains have worked hard to deny customers information they need to make healthy food choices — but this decision starts to clear the way for people to have ready access to calorie information when they order their food.”

Not! It clears the way for total confusion, and we just can't wait for the DOH "study" that finds that the folks, enlightened and newly motivated, are changing their eating patterns in the name of good health.