Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Stubborn Facts

We just received some interesting additional information from an industry source on the impact of calorie posting. It seems as if some fast fooders were concerned enough with what the DOH study might purport to show, that they conducted their own as a check.

What was found by this one study is extremely instructive-as well as persuasive: 20% of the chain's customers did notice the calorie posting and changed their ordering pattern in certain ways. In fact, many did indeed switch from beef to a healthier chicken sandwich; but then proceeded to order the desert pie! And the orders for pie even doubled-a classic example of; "I ordered a healthier chicken sandwich rather than a burger this time so I deserve to treat myself with a pie."

But there was, it seems to us, ample evidence prior to embarking on Thomas Frieden's great adventure, that calorie posting was not going to have the kind of impact that the health advocates wanted. That all of this was done without the slightest hedging-you know, perhaps a smaller pilot program before reconfiguring all of the fast food menu boards-was really shameful, and indicates the kind of blind faith that so much of this advocacy is governed by (along with a real animus against the entire fast food industry).

The adventurism in this case was aided and abetted by the editorial boards-that also seemed impervious to fact-based arguments. As we said at the time about the NY Daily News: "The News goes on to say that, "...people make healthier choices if they know how many calories they are consuming." Of course, what the News doesn't tell you is that: (1) most consumers don't know how many calories they should be eating, or (2) even what a calorie is- making this costly experimental "education" of fast food customers a charade. The paper also fails to point out that nutritionists are moving away from simplistic calorie information and the ill-informed consumer who needs around 2,000 calories a day might be tempted to consume 5 or 6 Hostess Snowballs a day, confident that he is meeting his daily allotment."

And the paper shares the health advocates' elitism as well: "Behind all of this sarcastic derision ("dependent on peddling cheap calories to repeat patrons..."), is the fact that our editorial elites maintain a core animus toward fast foods. After all, "peddling" is the common adjective used in conjunction with drug dealers. So the 2300 outlets that employ around 100,000 New Yorkers and generate millions of tax dollars to the city treasury are ridiculed by folks that, we dare to say, never started a business and never contributed, as hundreds of fast food franchisees have, to the economic renaissance of many of the most blighted of the city's urban neighborhoods."

And the NY Times is right there with the News-cheering the court's support of DOH as, "...a victory for New York City’s campaign against obesity..." And, of course, no one will chide the good doctor Frieden for his fatuousness: "This is good news for everyone,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the city’s health commissioner. “Nearly all chain restaurants are now complying with the law. Consumers are learning more about the food before they order, and the market for healthier alternatives is growing...."

Except, not so much, if we look at the results of the study that DOH commissioned. But there's one thing that you can depend on when it comes to this kind of faith-based policy making; no amount of evidence will quell the quixotic quest to enforce proper behavioral standards on the unenlightened. In this world beyond reality, nothing succeeds like failure.