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Argument: Calorie counts cause consumers to make healthier choices

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"Calorie Count On Menus Is Influencing Consumer Behavior, Says Technomic" Medical News Today. Feb 8, 2009: "Technomic found that 86 percent of New York City restaurant-goers were surprised by the calorie count information now listed on menus or menu boards, with 90 percent of them claiming that the calorie count was higher than expected. As a consequence, 82 percent say that calorie disclosure is affecting what they order and 60 percent say it is affecting where they visit."


"Calorie Count On Menus Is Influencing Consumer Behavior, Says Technomic". Medical News Today. February 8, 2009: "A new survey conducted by foodservice consultants Technomic, Inc. revealed that the mandated calorie disclosure for New York City restaurants with 15 or more units is affecting what items consumers order and which restaurants they visit. Technomic found that 86 percent of New York City restaurant-goers were surprised by the calorie count information now listed on menus or menu boards, with 90 percent of them claiming that the calorie count was higher than expected. As a consequence, 82 percent say that calorie disclosure is affecting what they order and 60 percent say it is affecting where they visit. The researchers also found evidence that suggests a high level of consumer support for mandated disclosure of fat and sodium content in restaurant foods."


Ezra Klein. "Change, Calories, Costs." Washington Post. July 15, 2009: "will putting calorie counts where we can see them make a difference? Possibly. Early studies, along with some anecdotal evidence, show that this practice is driving eaters to choose lighter items.

We're still waiting for the full data from New York's experiment. But the researchers there shared unpublished numbers with the County of Los Angeles Public Health Department, which was preparing an analysis in case Los Angeles wanted to follow New York's lead. Based on those numbers, Los Angeles researchers settled on a "conservative" estimate: 10 percent of chain restaurant patrons would order meals that were merely 100 calories lighter.

Surprisingly, that mild change in behavior has a huge and immediate effect: It would avert 38.9 percent of the county's expected weight gain in the next year. If 20 percent of patrons order meals with 150 fewer calories, it would avert 116 percent of the expected weight gain, which is to say that the County of Los Angeles would actually lose weight.

There's also a long-term impact worth considering here. In recent years, chain restaurants have vastly increased the caloric content of their meals. Since the '70s, the average soft-drink serving has increased by 49 calories, fries have jumped by 68 calories, burgers by 97 calories. And why not? Customers like abundance, and food is cheap. But if customers began exhibiting a preference for lower-calorie meals, chain companies could turn some of that research and development wizardry to reformulating their products. The calories on our plates would get a little less abundant. And that could have the biggest impact of all."

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