October 7, 2009

Fast food calories? I’ll take more please.

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They say you are what you eat. But even when people are fully aware of what they’re consuming — it doesn’t seem to make a difference.

A new study by a New York University School of Medicine professor found that mandated calorie labels on fast food restaurant menus did little to sway consumers’ choices, writesRick Attig of the Oregonian.

The data comes from New York, the first U.S. state to pass such sweeping legislation. The study focused on McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken chains in impoverished neighborhoods, where rates of obesity and diabetes are often higher. Researchers collected receipts and compared orders taken two weeks before and one month after the city adopted calorie count ordinances.

While they discovered that the percentage of people who noticed the nutrition information skyrocketed (and almost 90 percent said they selected fewer calories in response), there were no significant differences in the average calories customers consumed before and after the law went into effect. In fact, in many cases, people ordered more.

It’s not exactly good news for calorie posting laws developing in other states, where posting calories and banning fast food have already been disputed as effective obesity tools.

Yet, in a 2007 survey, 69 percent of Oregon residents told Northwest Health Foundation they’d like to see calorie counts on menus. They got their wish in spring this year when the House voted 44-14 in favor of such a bill. While the law doesn’t go into effect until 2011, the Oregon Restaurant Association has already paired up with a number of state restaurants to help calculate nutritional profiles.

A similar federal version of that measure, backed by the National Restaurant Association, has been making rounds since June via the Affordable Health Choices Act, a comprehensive health care reform package.

While it’s likely that the calorie counts will take time for people to adjust to, calorie information is no silver bullet to America’s obesity epidemic, where one in three individuals is overweight, wrote Sean Greggory of Time Magazine in June. Check out his article for more interesting, if not repulsive, fast food statistics.

— Natasha Walker

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