Counting Calories

Jared Wade


March 1, 2010

There has been talk that fast-food chains could one day face lawsuits similar to those of Big Tobacco, with these theoretical "obesity lawsuits" focusing on the non-transparent dangers of things like trans fats. To crack down on those hiding the ingredients of the food they are selling, New York City went so far as to require all restaurant chains to post the calorie content of their menu items. The belief was that if consumers know how unhealthy certain foods are, they will make healthier decisions. But according to a recent NYU study, customers at McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King and KFC did not eat less-in fact, they ate slightly more. A Stanford study on the same topic, however, found that those customers at Starbucks who routinely purchased high-calorie foods began lowering their calorie intake by 26%. "This study helps confirm what we believed all along," said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "Consumers can make healthier choices when supplied with the right information." This is the first major study to show a direct relationship between visible calorie notification and consumer's eating habits. It remains unclear exactly what effect such information will have, but everyone from restaurant owners and regulators to nutrition experts and lawyers are sure to draw their own conclusions.

Jared Wade is a freelance writer and a former editor of Risk Management.