February 16, 2008

In The News: Caloric Controversy

Back in January I posted about the New York City Board of Health's motion forcing chain restaurants to display caloric information in a conspicuous fashion (i.e.: on the menu, rather than the double cheeseburger wrapper you don't see until AFTER you have paid for your order).

Then, on February 4, I referred you to a link on Marion Nestle's blog where she notified us that the National Restaurant Association was preparing to fire back with litigation claiming such a rule was unnecessary, unfounded, and detrimental to consumers.

Now, The New York Times is providing details on the affidavit submitted to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

And, oh, what interesting details they are!

To begin with, the document is penned by Dr. David B. Allison.

Allison is not a high-profile corporate lawyer.

Oh no. Far from it. He's a professor of nutrition at the University of Alabama -- and the incoming president of the Obesity Society!

That's right. A man at the helm of an organization whose vision is to "be the leader in understanding, preventing and treating obesity and in improving the lives of those affected" is against calorie labeling and representing McDonald's, Burger King, and other fast food restaurants.

His arguments against the Board of Health's motion?

"Dr. Allison argues that the new rules could backfire — whether by adding to the forbidden-fruit allure of high-calorie foods or by sending patrons away hungry enough that they will later gorge themselves even more."

Sending away hungry patrons? Posting caloric information on a board is very different from armed guards threatening people with machine guns if they dare step inside a McDonald's.

The goal is simply to provide consumers with information allowing them to make healthier choices.

I should point out that I have given talks and workshops in the past where I actually show people how they can go to McDonald's for a meal and choose appropriately.

I do not recommend McDonald's be a daily staple, but I recognize that once in a while, whether out of personal preference or other reasons (i.e.: you're on the road, starving, pressed for time, and your only option is fast food), people will be looking up at a fast food menu deciding what to order.

Although it may be "so obvious" to some, many people aren't aware that a Big Mac with large fries and a large Coke is a very different meal from a regular hamburger with small fries and a bottle of water.

In fact, there is roughly a 900 calorie difference between those two options!

In any case, Allison supports his theory that calorie labeling will drive away hungry patrons who will ultimately end up gorging by "citing research showing that birds put on weight when food is scarce."

Too bad food scarcity is completely irrelevant in this discussion.

Consumers are not told to either order a 1,400 calorie meal or go home empty-handed. They can go ahead and order that 1,400 calorie meal, but now they'll KNOW it is a 1,400 calorie meal.

Allison proudly claims that he utilizes scientific evidence in his affidavit to prove his point.

Specifically, he "cites a study that found that dieters who were distracted while eating and presented with information that food was high in calories were more likely to overeat."

I love how people throw around the term "scientific evidence" as if that automatically means what they are about to say is a universal truth.

The study he points at mentions dieters being distracted while eating. How, exactly, would calorie labeling distract people as they eat? The information only comes to play while they are ordering.

A Board of Health representative will not be sitting across from them as they bite into their Big Mac notifying them of how many calories they just paid for.

Luckily, the Obesity Society is not standing behind Allison.

"The obesity group released a statement on Tuesday supporting calorie labeling on menus. “The Obesity Society believes that more information on the caloric content of restaurant servings, not less, is in the interests of consumers,” said the statement by the society, which is based in Silver Spring, Md."

I am surprised the Obesity Society is still permitting Dr. Allison to come in as president.

Isn't his support of the National Restaurant Association akin to the head of the National Rifle Association supporting strict gun control laws?

1 comment:

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