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Argument: Calorie counts are ineffective at compelling healthier choices

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Supporting quotations

Jeff Jacoby. "Want a warning label with those fries?" The Boston Globe. January 11, 2009: "with the rise of the Internet, Americans have access to more such information today than ever before. Yet Americans are also fatter than ever before. [...] Perhaps that is because hectoring people about calories doesn't usually make them thinner. It doesn't work when family members do it. It won't work any better when regulators do it. Not even in Massachusetts."

Steve Chapman. "Force-fed the facts". Reason. June 23, 2008: "The belief that more facts will generate wiser decisions is appealing but, at least in the realm of food, yet to be proved. No one seems to have noticed that as nutritional labeling has expanded, so have American waistlines. The federal government first required packaged foods to carry such information in the mid-1970s, and today, we are collectively fatter than we were then.

What does that suggest? Either people don't notice what's in the food they buy, or they don't let the knowledge affect what goes in their mouths.

"You can certainly say that most people certainly don't understand the food label," former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Lester Crawford told the 2004 World Obesity Congress. "And it's not because they can't understand it, it's because they don't care to understand it."

If people don't heed the information they already have, they aren't going to waste effort digesting an additional onslaught of facts. The assumption is that people eat badly because they don't acquire the essential knowledge about their food. But it may be they fail to obtain those facts because they prefer to eat whatever they like. Not everyone approaches dinner as a research project.

There is little research to suggest that calorie alerts will make any difference in obesity rates. In 2004, the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reported that when women of normal weight were given this kind of information, it had no effect on what they ate, and that facts furnished in restaurants were also irrelevant in dining decisions."

"You Didn’t Ask for Calorie Counts on Restaurant Menus, But Here They Are Anyway". 411mania. June 6th, 2009: "These kinds of interference with our food choices usually come under the guise of protecting consumers. And really, this whole calorie reporting requirement is seemly innocuous and maybe useful. But did consumers really want it? How many people truly felt ill-informed about the nutritional content of restaurant food? Surely there are some consumers who scrupulously analyze what they eat, but not so many that the government needs to mandate calorie reporting. If a person has a weight problem, it's usually not because they don't know the nutritional value of their food, but rather because of a lack of exercise and/or prudence. Displaying calorie counts on a restaurant menu will have an inconsequential impact on public health."

"Dietitians of Canada opposed to calories on menus?" Weighty Matters. June 17, 2009: "Dietitians of Canada is concerned that there is limited evidence to support a move to posting energy content of foods on restaurant menu boards as a means of influencing consumers to make positive changes in their food selection at this point of purchase."

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