Pitney patrol

540 calories? Is that all?

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The AP reports that New York City fast food restaurants have begun complying with requirements to post calories prominently on their overhead menus. Read the full article and note a few things:

– This has been difficult and expensive for small business owners, whose restaurants were included in the regulations even though they were intended for nationwide chains

– Cathy Nonas, director of the health department’s physical activity and nutrition program, might be channeling Caseworker Alice Pitney — she certainly has a title worthy of the great CAP

– A Big Mac is only 540 calories? It would take two just to make a decent dinner

– Are people really surprised to learn that a jelly donut has 270 calories? Really? What are they, ignant?

I predict, boldly, that this will not reduce obesity in New York or anywhere else. I also predict that this initiative’s lack of success will not be seen as evidence that the health officials don’t know what they’re doing. Instead of acknowledging that they were wrong, that people aren’t obese because of a lack of information about how many calories a Big Mac has, government officials will call for more regulations and programs, because, um, there’s an epidemic don’t you know, and the reason they didn’t cure obesity with this last round of regulations was that they didn’t go far enough. Their failure will be why we need to give them more control. The word addiction might come up. Comparisons to tobacco will surface.

Not such a bold prediction, I guess. We all see it coming.


Scott Stein is editor of When Falls the Coliseum and runs the humor site STEINLINES. He is author of the novels Lost and Mean Martin Manning. His short fiction, book reviews, and essays have been published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, The G.W. Review, Liberty, National Review, PopMatters.com, and Art Times. He is a professor of English at Drexel University. Scott tweets @sstein.

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2 Responses to “540 calories? Is that all?”

  1. I don’t know, I think there is something to it. A couple of years ago, Ruby Tuesday started listing all of the nutritional information (Calories, Fat grams, Carb grams, etc) for every item on their menu. And it was right next to the item in t he menu, not on some special sheet that you needed to request. I was no longer able to eat there, as I could not bring myself to order anything on the menu. Seriously, even the things that I thought were the healthier choices were just brutal.

    I imagine I was not the only one impacted that way, as the information was quickly removed from the menu, and is now only listed for the special “diet” section of the menu.

    Of course, I am already predisposed to look at that kind of thing and make choices based on it. I would expect that most of the patrons of McDonald’s aren’t terribly concerned about the number of fat grams in their Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese.

  2. Alan, your last paragraph is the key. I am not arguing that no one will make any different decisions with more information. Some will. But I am arguing that it won’t reduce overall obesity. And I am arguing that nearly everyone who orders a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese already knows its loaded with calories and fat. They eat it anyway. If someone really is so ignorant that they think a DQPwC is health food, they’re beyond being helped by a calorie listing on the menu.

    As you say, you are predisposed to look at that kind of thing and to make different choices. I don’t object in principle to giving consumers more information. But when it doesn’t reduce obesity, do you think those crying “epidemic” and calling it a public health crisis are going to stop at providing information?

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