Thursday, October 8, 2009

Ezra Swallows His Pride

This is why I respect Ezra Klein:

I've been a big proponent of affixing calorie counts to menus. There's substantial evidence suggesting that people wildly underestimate the calorie content of dishes at restaurants, and have a lot of trouble reliably guessing whether one dish is lighter than another dish. There's also evidence that people want to eat better than they do. It seemed like the sort of situation where information could result in action.

The first big study out of New York City, however, suggests that menu labeling has been a bit of a bust in changing ordering habits at fast food restaurants in low-income neighborhoods. The researchers identified 14 outlets and, using Newark (where there's no calorie labeling) as a control group, conducted interviews and receipt checks to see how ordering patterns changed. The answer? They didn't. If anything, the calories per order went up a smidge.

. . .

I'm still a supporter of calorie labeling on the simple grounds that people should have this information, no matter how they choose to use it. But so far, the evidence suggests that it's not going to make a dent in obesity rates.


MediaMaven said...

So why do you respect Ezra Klein?

I was disappointed when I read the results of this survey the other day, because, like Ezra, I am a fan of calorie labels and I believe in transparency and knowledge. Did you read the comments underneath the post? There are some methodological criticisms lobbied (which you will love) and some alternative theories. I expect to see more studies in the future and don't think this movement is dead yet.

mikhailbakunin said...

I haven't read the study, but I'd be interested in looking at some of the criticisms.

I'm also in favor of calroie labeling, but I respect Ezra because he's willing to acknowledge empirical reality. In this instance, calorie labeling didn't appear to produce the results that Ezra expected, and he admitted as much.