Can The FDA's New Plan End American Obesity Once and For All?

Will you really not eat a double-patty burger after knowing how fattening it is? Be honest.

Calories FDA

After a long wait, the Food and Drug Administration recently issued a set of rules that will require all kinds of food establishments to prominently list the calorie count of the dishes and drinks they serve.

The new guidelines apply to prepared food businesses including restaurants, grocery store take-out counters, convenience stores, theaters, amusement parks and vending machines with more than 20 outlets.

The plan comes after a good wait of four years. In 2010, after the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) was introduced, a part of it called for calorie counts to be posted on the menus of chain restaurants. When the FDA deliberated the bill, food lobbies retaliated, putting the decision on hold for years.

However, as highly anticipated as the policy was, it doesn’t look like it can do wonders to reduce morbidly high obesity rates in the United States.

The reason is simple. Most people already have an estimated idea of what they are eating. For instance, you obviously know the double-patty burger from your favorite fast-food joint contains more than 500 calories but you order it twice a week anyway.

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Sure, some counts may comes as shocking revelations – for example, McDonald’s medium milkshake has around 420 calories – but awareness doesn’t really guarantee good choices, does it?

Researchers examined buying habits in New York after some restaurants, mostly in low-income neighborhoods, first implemented the calorie count regulation. While more than a quarter of those surveyed said the food labeling law “influenced their choices,” an analysis of what people were actually buying showed the exact opposite.

“Calorie information on menus appears to increase awareness of calorie content, but not necessarily the number of calories people purchase,” the study noted.

Other research reached a similar conclusion where customers noticed the labels, but didn't purchase fewer calories.

Again, it is not like the plan doesn’t work at all – some cuts in the studies mentioned above were observed – but on the whole, calorie-labeling doesn’t seem to make as much of a difference as the FDA might think.

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