Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Thin Get Thinner

Leave it to the Bloombergistas to trumpet as a triumph something that, when examined, underscores the failure of one of their key policies-calorie posting in fast food restaurants. According to a mayoral press release: “Researchers at Stanford have analyzed 100 million Starbucks customer receipts, and the results should please anyone who cares about health. The researchers found that the number of calories in an average Starbucks purchase is down by 6% since New York City adopted its groundbreaking calorie-posting rule, and people who typically purchase more than 250 calories cut the calories in what they bought by even more – 26%."

But of course everyone knows that the typical Starbucks customer isn't from the same demographic as the typical McDonalds patron-and it is the Big Mac that is the real target of the calorie posting policy. Your Starbucks denizen will be notably higher educated and less obese than her counterpart at McDonalds and Burger King.

But the mayor needs to grasp whatever straw he can in order to justify what the NYU study last year demonstrated was a complete failure-with fast food patrons apparently immune to the educational effort on the menu board. Instead of acknowledging their failure with the target overweight population, the Bloombergistas crow about the impact of the regulation on the Slim Fast crowd-obfuscating the failure with this sleight-of hand: “By requiring chain restaurants to post calorie counts on menus and menu boards, New York City has sparked a national response to the epidemics of obesity and diabetes. We gave New Yorkers the ability to choose foods with fewer calories, and now consumers are using that information and benefiting from it.”

Fat chance! As we pointed out in October-citing the NY Times reporting: "As the NY Times reports today, the whole experiment has been a colossal waste of time and money: "A study of New York City’s pioneering law on posting calories in restaurant chains suggests that when it comes to deciding what to order, people’s stomachs are more powerful than their brains...It found that about half the customers noticed the calorie counts, which were prominently posted on menu boards. About 28 percent of those who noticed them said the information had influenced their ordering, and 9 out of 10 of those said they had made healthier choices as a result. But when the researchers checked receipts afterward, they found that people had, in fact, ordered slightly more calories than the typical customer had before the labeling law went into effect, in July 2008."

City Room points this out with some clarity: "The research supported similar preliminary findings in a study by the New York City health department. But it contradicted a study published in October in the online version of the journal Health Affairs. That study, conducted by professors at New York University and Yale, tracked customers at McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken in poor neighborhoods of New York City with high rates of obesity. Using fast food restaurants in Newark, where there is no calorie posting law, as controls, the study found that calorie counts made no difference even for customers who had noticed that the calories were posted."

And City Room underscores our main critique of the unwarranted Bloomberg euphoria: "Unlike the N.Y.U. and Yale study, the Stanford study was not tailored around poor neighborhoods, and it focused on a luxury brand, Starbucks, rather than chains like McDonald’s that put a premium on low prices and whose core business is food."

And even the study's author-but not the mayor and our friend Dr. Lynn Silver-admitted its limitations: "Professor Leslie said that a breakdown of the study data by ZIP code showed that the effect of calorie posting was greater among more affluent, educated consumers. And he said, people go to Starbucks primarily for coffee, rather than food, which may be the reason that they were willing to be more flexible on their food choices, with a resulting drop in calories. “Any notion that this is having an identical effect across all chain restaurants is somewhat absurd,” he said."

Which renders this statement from the mayor, well, absurd: “This study helps confirm what we’ve believed all along,” Mr. Bloomberg said in a written response to the study. “Consumers can make healthier choices when supplied with the right information, and businesses can profit while offering their customers healthier alternatives.”

But not those consumers who apparently need to make different choices in order to become less obese. And, just as more educated and thinner folks are taking greater advantage of the labels on manufactured foods sold in supermarkets, so are they more sensitive than their obese counterparts to similar information posted where they buy their lattes. To claim this as a victory underscores just how desperate these pathetic health nannies are to justify their quixotic efforts to take control over peoples' lives.