Earlier this month, the New York Times published a story that discusses the research conducted by professors from NYU and Yale surrounding calorie labels posted in fast food restaurants in poor neighborhoods of New York City. The study concluded that customers actually "ordered slightly more calories than the typical customer had before the labeling law went into effect, in July 2008." As The Atlantic's Marion Nestle argues, perhaps this counterintuitive result is in part due to the fact that many people do not understand calories as a guideline for personal nutrition.
The Swedish National Food Administration took food labeling to the next level this year through their "environmentally effective food choices" program, which includes labels that list carbon dioxide emissions associated with the production of the food product. These labels are now cropping up on menus and some grocery store items. But when the average shopper comes across "Climate declared: .87 kg CO2 per kg of product" on an oatmeal box, is he or she going to understand what that means?
Sure, any person who can count can deduce what the "greener" choice based on these guidelines would be when comparing a handful of menu options. At Max, Sweden's popular hamburger chain, sales of "climate-friendly items" have risen 20 percent since the labels have been introduced. But I find it hard to believe that the public will completely change their shopping habits based on these new labels, especially since "kg CO2 per kg of product" is impossible to visualize and difficult to comprehend.