Nutritional Information Does Make a Difference
More and more restaurants are moving toward providing more nutritional content information regarding the food they serve. In fact, the recent federal health care legislation mandates that chain restaurants post caloric content of their food items. This is a good thing, but there are 3 absurd but consistently made arguments which claim that this information may NOT be a good thing. An AP article posted today manages to cram all three into one big pile of crap. Let’s take them one by one:
1. People don’t know what their daily calorie intake should be. Therefore, calorie information is meaningless.
On its face, this argument is ridiculous. Dig a little deeper and this argument is still ridiculous. This argument is basically that a person who does not know what their individual calorie intake should be, is then unable to read calorie information. This is false. Knowing your individual calorie intake is not a prerequisite to knowing that an item with 500 calories is probably better for you than one with 1000. Unless you’re Michael Phelps and need 10,000 calories per day, then its likely that you are in the average range for humans. Average humans should choose the one with less calories in most cases.
2. “Halo effect”
This argument proposes that one assumes that a lower calorie item is healthier when, in fact, it may contain exorbitant amounts of other unhealthy content (i.e. salt). Out of the three arguments, this is the only one that seems at all reasonable. There are items which may be lower in calories but high in salt content or other unhealthy ingredients. However, barring providing a list of every ingredient in every item, calories are the best item on which to make an assumption. If you choose an item low in calories then you may be mistaken in thinking you are purchasing a healthy food. However, if you purchase something high in calories, you are definitely purchasing an unhealthy food. Better to take chances with the low calorie item.
3. Customers ignore them anyway
This is the “people still eat fast food” argument. It is true that people still eat fast food. However, they may eat “healthier” fast food because the nutritional content is provided. A person dead set on eating McDonald’s may see the menu and choose the McChicken over the triple Big Mac. Would they be better off going home and making a salad? Absolutely, but isn’t it better that they are given information which at least allowed them to choose the 360 calorie McChicken over the 704 calorie Big Mac. This is the ultimate point here. Information allows individuals to make informed choices. With no caloric information, the choice to go with the Big Mac would be much easier to justify. Even if nutritional information is a small deterrent, it is a deterrent nonetheless.