What if the next time you open your menu at your favorite restaurant, the nutritional information – calories, fat, sodium, etc. – Is it on the list for you to consider? Would you still order Houston Grilled Chicken Salad (34 grams of fat) or Macaroni Grilled Salmon (1160 calories, 25 grams of fat, and 1240 mg of sodium!)? How about the Chili Molten Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream (1270 calories and 62 grams of fat)? Do these numbers surprise you? Or would you rather not know?
New labeling mandates that take effect this year require restaurants with 20 or more establishments operating under the same name to provide nutrition information on their menus.
Why does the government think it is important for you to know? Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy food commissioner, cites the “huge obesity problem in this country that is due in part to excessive calorie consumption outside the home.”
Being overweight, as most of us know, comes with its own problems, such as an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and many types of cancer. In fact, obesity is poised to overtake tobacco as the leading cause of preventable death in the United States.
Today, 63% of American adults are overweight or obese. If we continue to gain weight, obesity will cost the U.S. approximately $ 344 billion in medical expenses by 2018.
Are you starting to see the domino effect here? Weight, there is more.
Obese patients spend an average of $ 1,429 (42%) more per year for their health care than people of a healthy weight. Health economist Eric Finkelstein, co-author of The Fattening of America, says medical costs will not go down unless Americans “lose weight by improving their diet and exercise patterns.”
So will the new nutrition labeling requirements help? Proponents including myself believe that knowing what’s in your food makes you more likely to make better decisions about what to put in your mouth, and therefore more likely to avoid the obesity trap. However, many restaurants worry that if you know the nutritional truth, you will not return.
Houston’s, a popular restaurant chain with 30 locations in the US, apparently believes that you can’t handle the truth. Rather than reprint its menus to include nutritional information, the chain is changing its name. That’s how it is; Houston’s is rebranding 11 of its locations under the new name Hillstone, delivering 34 years of brand equity in its name to circumvent the new law. This way, customers can continue to enjoy their spinach and rib sauce without the burden of knowing what the caloric cost is.
So I ask you again: is ignorance a blessing or do you prefer to know?
You may think that all this government intervention is too much. But what if it really could save lives, not to mention millions (billions) of dollars from our taxpayers? Let’s look at two cases.
When the seat belt legislation went into effect in 1984, you will recall that critics heatedly argued over restrictions on our civil liberties. People were furious because the government was telling us what to do in our own cars. Well, statistics released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that seat belt legislation has reduced the number of road traffic injuries by 45% and reduced deaths from motor vehicle accidents. by 50%. And for a country that can’t afford it, annual medical costs due to accidents amount to around $ 11 billion, rising to $ 70 billion when lost productivity is taken into account. Imagine what these costs would be without seat belt laws.
On the other hand, how effective has tobacco legislation been? Cigarette advertising on television and radio was banned in 1970, when about 50% of Americans smoked. Warning labels on cigarette packages first appeared 46 years ago, and yes, we have seen a steady decline in smoking over the past four decades. Today, 20% of Americans still smoke; though still a significant number, less than half of those who smoked in the 1970s. (The FDA has proposed new and larger warning labels designed to cover 50% of the package. Will they have a greater effect on reducing the smoking?)
But cigarettes and chocolate cake are not the same … or are they? Sugar has also been shown to be highly addictive, and despite the “funny” image of a sugary dessert, too much sugar can cause serious health risks.
Perhaps something truly miraculous will happen with the new menu labeling; perhaps food companies and restaurants, faced with new labeling laws and better-informed consumers, provide healthier options. Now that would be a reason to go out to dinner and celebrate.
What do you think?