Calorie labels don’t work

Many public health professionals believe that if people only knew how many calories were in their Big Macs, they’d order fewer of them. This has led to laws requiring restaurants to post caloric and other information about their menu items. But a study of New York City’s law shows that while people are aware of the information, it doesn’t cause them to eat less. In fact, according to an article in today’s New York Times, the study showed that:

..people had, in fact, ordered slightly more calories than the typical customer had before the labeling law went into effect, in July 2008.

What the article doesn’t speculate on is why this might be the case. I think people are less likely to purchase that extra Whopper when they don’t know how many calories are in it. When they find out how many calories the sandwich really has, they probably figure, “ah well, that isn’t too many, and besides I can make up for it by ordering a diet Coke.”

So what will the health police try next?