by Stuart Shapiro
The health care costs of obesity are hurting all of us (especially those who are obese). One of the least intrusive measures to curb overeating is the posting of calorie counts in restaurants. This practice, most prominently tried in New York, has drawn its share of skeptics. However, a new study with a particularly sophisticated design has found that upon seeing calorie counts, people reduce the amount they eat:
Do such calorie disclosure laws work? Using data from Starbucks restaurants in New York City both before and after the city passed a law in 2008 requiring chain restaurants to post calorie amounts on menus, Bollinger, Leslie and Sorenson compared caloric intake data from the New York locations with “control” Starbucks stores in Boston and Philadelphia, where calorie posting was not required.
They found that with calorie posting in effect, Starbucks customers’ average caloric intake per food transaction decreased by 14%, while their average caloric intake per beverage transaction did not change. Of the reduced calories, 74% resulted from fewer purchases, while 26% stemmed from purchasing lower calorie products.
Few people (and I’m not one of them) want to tell people what they can and can’t eat. Letting people know how much they are eating though, that’s fine by me. And if it reduces health care costs and prolongs lives, let’s do it.
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