A reader writes:
I work in the Research Support office of a children's hospital research institute, and I have seen the literature testing Washington (State)'s menu laws. As a result of research being done here, the menu laws do not significantly impact a person's ordering when they are ordering for themselves. However, when parents are ordering for, or supervising the ordering of, their children, the parents will significantly cut the calories and fat intake of their children. Additionally, places like California Pizza Company and Cheesecake Factory, have reduced portion sizes and the use of fat- and salt-heavy dressings in their salads as a result of menu labeling. Anecdotal but indicative.
Having been overweight all my life until finally deciding to change it at the beginning of 2009 and subsequently losing about 100 lbs over the past 15 months, I think I have a pretty good perspective on this issue.
Sager is technically correct in that many people will still over-eat and over-indulge whether calorie info is readily available or not. But people who haven't truly decided to take control and change the way they approach food are going to continue to do that despite anything anybody else does. Calorie information is of extreme importance to those who are making a change, if we want to be successful, we absolutely need this information, and the easier it is to come by the better.
I would love to have calorie information included on menus. Fortunately I have an iPhone and have generally been able to look things up when dining out. Ironically, I've found that fast food chains are currently some of the best in terms of giving diners easy access to this info. McDonald's even has calorie info printed on the wrappers and boxes for a lot of their food. Seriously! Some national chains don't provide it at all on their websites so far as I can see, and we have to rely on third party sites to find out what we're eating.
My bottom line with regards to Sager's approach; if you focus only on those who fail to lose weight, all you will learn about is failure. Focus instead on those who succeed. We can tell you calorie info is of supreme importance. Some may disagree that laws mandating that this information be provided are necessary, but whether the information is useful or not, is really not a matter of debate.
Ezra Klein had been a big booster for fast-food labeling as a way to curb consumption among the poor, but the first big study out of the NYC area, in late 2008, showed that labeling slightly increased consumption. His reaction here. Reaction from other bloggers, including Sager, here. Consumerist explains the image above:
Last August, we wrote about the "Double Down," a mysteriously tempting (and potentialy lethal) new food item being tested by KFC. For those coming late to the story, it's bacon and cheese sandwiched between two pieces of fried chicken. ... [It] will set you back about 540 calories, 32g of fat and 1380mg of sodium.