Big Brother Wants You On a Diet

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Could Calorie Counts at Restaurants Help Out?The obesity epidemic in America has compromised the health of millions of Americans, and contributed to skyrocketing health care costs. Two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese, and nearly one third of children and adolescents are also overweight or obese.

Cyril O. Enwonwu, a nutritional biochemist who studies the interactions among dietary habits, infections, inflammation and immunity, suggests that obese children are actually malnourished. “Despite the fact that they generally eat more than enough food, overweight children also can suffer from malnutrition. Today, global health research tells us that malnutrition is as much about what we eat as what we do not; it is either a lack of adequate food or an overabundance of nutritionally bankrupt foods”.

Beginning next year, restaurant chains with 20 or more retail stores will be required to display menu calorie counts for their food items, along with nag screen type reminders of the USDA’s recommended 2,000-calorie daily intake. Also required are labels on food items in vending machines, drive-through restaurants, buffets, and cocktail drink menus.

Based on a study by researchers at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, people who used the calorie information available at fast-food chain restaurants in New York City bought 106 fewer calories’ worth of food at lunch compared to those who didn’t see or use the calorie counts; the overall calories purchased decreased at nine food chains and dropped significantly at McDonald’s, Au Bon Pain, KFC and Starbucks.

However, in the same study, there was an interesting reaction to the posted calorie rule: only 15% of customers used the calorie information. And the calories from foods purchased at Subway increased significantly, “possibly because diners were purchasing a special deal on 12-inch sandwiches”.

OuchNevertheless, when confronted with the stark reminder of the Agriculture Department’s recommended 2,000-calorie intake for the entire day, we may all think twice about a 540 to 600 calorie Big Mac, or that sinful 3,000 calorie order of chili cheese fries.

Although the amount of calories burned varies with each person’s individual body weight, in order to burn off a Big Mac and chili cheese fries — 1000 calories over the recommended 2,000-calorie daily intake — you’d have to mow the lawn for almost 5 hours, or jog roughly 6 miles.

In the government’s zeal towards a nanny state where bureaucrats gleefully assume the role of protecting us from ourselves, will big brother even actually enforce the new calorie mandate? A recent study disclosed that some individual restaurant items listed on menus contain up to 200% of the stated caloric values, with side dishes having 245% more of the stated values than the entrees they accompanied.

And according to the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, a study of major chain restaurants found 29 quick-serve and sit-down restaurant foods averaged 18 percent more of the stated caloric values on menus.

“The problem hasn’t been that people can’t get this information,” said Radley Balko, a senior editor at the libertarian magazine Reason. “I think what the public-health people want is to smack people in the head with it. What’s next? At some point they are going to want to dictate what restaurants put on their menus.”

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Spence Cooper
Inquisitive foodie with a professional investigative background and strong belief in the organic farm to table movement. Author of Bad Seeds: A FriendsEAT Guide to GMO's. Buy Now!
Spence Cooper

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