Thursday, September 24, 2009

High Caloric

In City Room yesterday, there is a post that we can't quite get a handle on-it deals with a study by the DOH on its calorie posting regime: "People who drink high-calorie beverages — whether they be soda or elaborate frozen coffee concoctions — tend to consume more calories over all, increasing their risk of obesity. Now New York City health officials are examining whether posting calorie counts where customers can see them has led more customers to order the 130-calorie venti iced tea instead."

Well, we knew this was the plan-but the current study doesn't examine the possibility that the postings made any behavioral difference: "The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene on Tuesday released the results of a study about the ordering habits at 115 Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts stores in the city. The study, which was conducted in 2007, before certain chains were required to post nutritional information on ordering boards, found that the average blended drink had 239 calories. The average cup of coffee had 63 calories."

So this is the-before-study, the one designed to get a benchmark for the later, more revealing one. One thing that everyone should keep in mind, however, is the danger of allowing folks with a vested interest to do research that is designed to bolster the public policy that they've been advocating. So much can go in to corrupting the date when this interest factor is included.

But DOH is nothing if not intrepid in regard to what people consume: "The health department is busy analyzing new data about ordering habits to see whether customers have switched to a healthier option now that they can see how many calories they are about to consume. “People in general don’t realize how many calories they drink,” said Cathy Nonas, a dietitian who directs physical activity and nutrition programs for the health department. “Now that we’re calorie posting, I’m hoping that people are more aware.”

Of course, the people who are going to Starbucks are not the folks who are likely to be in danger of succumbing to the obesity epidemic-so Dunkin' may be a tad more revealing in that regard. All of this mishogos is, at least to us, a colossal waste of precious city resources-and an intrusion on the freedom of New Yorkers to make stupid decisions. But if the city's study shows little difference because of calorie posting, we're no betting that the results will be readily available for outlets like City Room to ruminate on.