Published on: February 6, 2008Business Week reports on the ongoing war taking place between public health officials who are concerned about the nation’s obesity crisis, and the restaurant industry, which thinks that the so-called “nutrition police” are getting involved with issues better resolved through personal choice.
There are numerous fronts in this war. One is the menu board issue. As Business Week writes, “On Jan. 22, New York City voted to require that calorie information be posted on chain-restaurant menus as of Mar. 31 … From Hawaii to Massachusetts, more than a dozen state and local governments are considering putting calories front and center on menus. San Francisco will hold hearings this month, and a law passed last year in Seattle goes into effect Aug. 1. To stave off new laws and overturn existing ones, the industry is marshaling a range of tactics,” including a national advertising campaign that would challenge the pro-regulatory forces.
On other fronts, “New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, and a handful of other local governments have passed bans on restaurant use of trans fats, and in Los Angeles there has even been discussion of ‘food zoning’ - barring new fast-food eateries from high obesity neighborhoods.”
Business Week reports: “So what if a McDonald's menu tells customers that a large chocolate shake contains more calories than two Big Macs? Or a Quiznos menu lets a patron know that its large tuna melt weighs in at 2,090 calories - a full day's allotment for a typical adult? … The restaurant industry argues that there's no good scientific evidence that this would lead to a reduction in obesity, and further, that it may lead diners to base decisions on calorie counts alone. That could mean, said Dunkin' Donuts in a court filing, that patrons might ‘not consider that the item may have protein and other nutrients that may contribute to a balanced diet’.”
- KC's View:
- Not sure about this, but it would seem to make sense that not drinking that chocolate shake – or at least ordering a smaller one – might, if combined with exercise and other, smarter food consumption decisions, lead to fewer obesity problems. It would also seem to make sense that that large tuna melt is a product to be avoided…by almost everyone.
And, memo to Dunkin’ Donuts. While I’m sure there are ingredients in some of your products that could be considered healthy, if anyone is depending on a doughnut for protein or any other part of a balanced diet, I think they are deluding themselves. Your products are indulgences…which isn’t to say that they are bad. Nor, in fact, are the chocolate shake or tuna melt “bad.”
It isn’t a matter of good or bad. It is a matter of providing information to consumers, of being completely and utterly transparent so that people can make good choices. If someone wants to eat one of those tuna melts for lunch, wash it down with a large chocolate shake and then wolf down a couple of frosted doughnuts for dessert, that shouldn't be illegal. But it seems to me that having the ingredients on the menu board is akin to having nutrition information on product labels.
I am less convinced that banning fast food joints from certain neighborhoods is an enforceable or even constitutional idea, though I certainly understand the motivation.
It seems to me that supermarket retailers actually have a dog in this fight. The last thing they want is for the “nutrition police” to be turning their attention to their segment of the food biz…which makes it ever more imperative to embrace the notion of transparency at all levels.
One other quick note. The Business Week article makes the point that the fast food folks are turning for help to some of the same folks who defended the tobacco industry. I’d be careful about that. First of all, they weren’t very successful. Second, I’d be doing everything possible to avoid being lumped in with that crowd, rather than encouraging comparisons.