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As Part of New Healthcare Law, Calorie Counts Go Nationwide

We’ve blogged a few times about the effect of calorie-count postings in restaurants in New York City – the extra information is valuable, but its efficacy in changing eating habits may be minimal among the people most likely to need a change. That said, the New York movement is now going national as part of the new healthcare law, which requires restaurant chains with 20 or more outlets to post calorie information at all their restaurants.
This Wall Street Journal article offers a good summary, including two quotes which seem to aptly reflect the optimistic and realistic views of the calorie-count measure. The optimistic view is courtesy of Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest:

“People could cut hundreds, thousands, of calories from their diet.”

And the realistic view is from Cathy Nonas, director of physical activity and nutrition at New York’s health department:

“Calorie posting in and of itself is not going to change obesity per se, but it’s all of these kinds of layering opportunities that we’re doing for public health all across the country that are going to make the difference.”

If I had to place a bet, I’d side with Nonas’s view for one simple reason: human behavior change – especially when it goes against our self-interest – is generally much, much harder that we think. Unless a nudge has a little bit of a shove attached (and calorie counts do not), most people will remain blissfully unmoved.
(Related: Freakonomics Radio, Fat Edition: Is the Obesity Epidemic for Real?)