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The “plan-o-cracy” is at it again. After citing research that suggested that mandatory calorie labeling of food in New York City has no measurable impact on the consumption choices of New Yorkers, the planning navel gazers just HAVE to figure out a way to make us eat less of the stuff that they do not approve of.  Here is the excerpt:

Whether that will actually happen is unclear. New York City, a mecca of public health experiments, has used calorie labels since 2008. There, research on whether they work ismixed, with many studies showing that the new information had no effect on eaters’ decision-making.

new study out of North Carolina, flagged by Aaron Carroll, suggests that the labels could be more effective if they included additional information—namely, the exercise required to work off the calories at hand.

calorie labels

Researchers showed 804 employees of the University of North Carolina Medical Center one of the four menu formats, shown above. They were asked to “imagine you are at a fast food restaurant” ordering a meal. Then they selected all items they would purchase.

Those provided with no calorie labels at all ordered, on average, 1020 calories. A menu with calorie labels dropped that down to 927 calories. But the one that did best was the third option, which showed how far someone would need to walk to burn off their meal. Under that scenario, study participants ordered an average of 826 calories.

New York City is, in a way, already testing this out. As part of a public health campaign, it has posted maps like this one that translate a 20-ounce soda into a three-mile walk to burn off the calories.

manhattan map

Ignore the nanny-statism here. Ignore the fact that from a “public purse” standpoint it’s not at all clear that we shouldn’t be subsidizing the consumption of greasy-fast food if all we care about is the public health budget. Think about the logic here. It is completely arbitrary. And for two reasons.

First: Take the calorie and walking labels above. Did you realize that the human brain at rest consumes about 300 calories over the course of a typical day (about 20% of resting metabolic needs). So how would you respond to a menu item at the top with the title “Calories and Walking” label if instead of telling you that you need to walk 2.6 miles to burn off the fast food it instead said, “you don’t need to do anything but sit there and think all day” to burn off that fast food. It’s true. In order to burn off those 276 calories, you just need to sit there and “be alive.” Of course, that’s not what the nannies mean. They just don’t like corporations. And fast food. Or food choices that you make. Please convince me otherwise.

Similarly, and this is a segue into the next point – if you take these people at their word and apply this menu logic through your day, you’d never get out of bed, or off the treadmill, or both. Don’t we consume about 2,000 calories regularly? And wouldn’t a daily consumption of about 2,000 calories coupled with regular activity mean your weight and health would remain unchanged? So, let’s apply their logic to all of your daily eating and tell me how much sense it makes:

“It would take you 20.8 miles of walking each day, every day, to burn off all of the calories you consume each day.
In other words you would need to walk for over 10 hours per day to burn off all of those calories.
If you consume all of your meals in your Woodhaven, Queens apartment (where Wintercow grew up) you would have to walk,
each day, every day, from that apartment all the way to Central Park in Manhattan. And back. 


Second: These infographics would ONLY be relevant if they read something like, “assuming you are already consuming exactly the amount of calories that your body needs to take care of itself for a full day, which for most people is approximately 2,000 calories per day, but more for others and less for others depending on your natural size and regular physical activity, NOW if you consume this fast food, on top of the 2,000 calories that you are already planning on consuming, then and only then would you need to walk 2.6 miles to burn it off, and this is assuming that you actually need to and want to burn it off.

You’d think that some of the smartest people in the world, who are of course the ones proposing these sorts of things and designing these sorts of things, would at least include an asterisk or a footnote somewhere in some obscure blog post to signify that they do in fact understand this. But no such asterisk is forthcoming. And I am supposed to be the one who takes a more charitable tone toward the people who “disagree” with me. This, folks, is not disagreement. There is nothing to disagree about. This is starting with the ending, plain and simple, and there is no way to agree or disagree with that – for it is not a way to argue. “They” have to do better than this. It’s amateur hour in Nannyville, and sadly all of us have to live there.

4 Responses to “This is Your Brain on Fast Food”

  1. jb says:

    If labeling such things is such a virtue, then how about:

    1. A requirement that when recycling is advocated in government schools, that teachers MUST explain the opportunity cost of hours spent separating paper, glass, etc. from the rest of the garbage, in terms of time that could otherwise be spent playing xxx basketball games, xxx hours at the beach, hanging with friends, watching TV, earning money…what have you.

    2. When colleges require applicants to spend XX hours in “community service” of some kind, that they must remind applicants of wages foregone…

    3. When purchasing gasoline, government must prominently display the full price per gallon, with and without sales tax, and how the amount taxed is allocated to various government programs.

    4. When filing income taxes, how many hours U.S. taxpayers spend on average filing taxes and how those hours could have been spent say, volunteering at a local charity…

    5. Other suggestions??

  2. jb says:

    …Or that electric cars must be emblazoned with a prominently displayed label “this car is 40% powered by coal”.

  3. Harry says:

    It would be more meaningful if the label were expressed in holes played, adjusted for handicap and course rating.

  4. Harry says:

    I think the government — it does not matter whether it is local, county, state or federal (hell, they all should give some pittance) — should pay golfers for both the emotional and physical failure to burn calories when having to wait for slow, fat golfers. Suggestion: $5 per hole from the Feds, $2 per hole from the state, and a buck each for the county and the locals. This is fairness. This way the fast golfers would be deflected from the coming economic apocalypse.

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