retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Two interesting stories with relevance to the debate about what the best regulatory approach to the obesity crisis should be…

The Los Angeles Times reports that a Rand Corp. study suggests that if the city were to ban the development of any new fast food restaurants in the South Los Angeles area – a move that has been considered because of what is generally conceded to be the lousy eating habits and poor health of neighborhood residents – it would be unlikely to have any impact on obesity rates.

While the study says that inner city residents ought to have greater access to healthier food options, the Times writes that the report maintains that “policy choices such as forcing restaurants to print calorie and nutrition information on their menus and reducing the availability of snack food and sodas is likely to be more effective in combating obesity than restricting the areas where fast-food establishments can open.”

Except…

The New York Times reports that a study of New York City’s law requiring precisely this kind of calorie posting on fast food chain menu boards has not been effective. The study, according to the paper, “found that about half the customers noticed the calorie counts, which were prominently posted on menu boards. About 28 percent of those who noticed them said the information had influenced their ordering, and 9 out of 10 of those said they had made healthier choices as a result.

“But when the researchers checked receipts afterward, they found that people had, in fact, ordered slightly more calories than the typical customer had before the labeling law went into effect, in July 2008.”
KC's View:
Personally, I’ve found the menu board calorie counts to be useful – I’ve avoided certain items because they’ve reminded me of precisely how bad they are for me.

I think clarity, transparency and full disclosure are industry’s responsibility. If people then want to eat ad behave in ways that are not in their own best interests, as is their right, then there is little that regulation and legislation can do about it. Of course…that may mean they have to pay higher insurance premiums, which also seems fair to me.

Personal responsibility and accountability is as important as industry responsibility and accountability.