The Evidence Is In: Bloomberg’s Calorie Count Menus Were A Total Failure


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Guy Bentley Research Associate, Reason Foundation
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A new study has blown away one of the key policies of New York City’s former mayor and chief calorie crusader Michael Bloomberg.

Bloomberg, who served as mayor of New York between 2002 and 2013, introduced a policy to force chain restaurants to show calorie counts on their menus. Starting in 2008, the calorie counts for restaurants with 15 outlets or more were intended to nudge consumers to eat fewer calories and consequently cut obesity rates.

But researchers at the NYU Langone Medical Center found that calorie consumption was barely impacted by the changes. The study published in the journal Health Affairs examined 7,700 people who at chain restaurants such as McDonald’s both in New York City and New Jersey.

Between January 2013 and January 2014, the calorie intake for diners who ate at restaurants with calorie labels and those without was virtually indistinguishable.

Customers who went to restaurants with the calorie counts displayed on menus averaged between 804 and 839 per meal while those who dined at outlets without the labels averaged 802 and 857 per meal.

Not only was there little difference between food joints who displayed the number of calories in their meals and those who didn’t, but the evidence shows that overall calorie consumption has actually increased since the policy was put in place.

A 2008 survey showed that people consumed roughly 783 per meal at restaurants with calorie labels compared to 756 per meal at restaurants without calorie counts.

Brian Elbel, who worked on the report said in a press release, “our study suggests that menu labeling, in particular at fast-food restaurants, will not on its own lead to any lasting reductions in calories consumed.”

The new evidence will call into question the wisdom of making calorie counts compulsory nationwide in December 2016 as part of the Affordable Care Act. The reason for including calorie labelling in the ACA was identical to Bloomberg’s, in that it would be part of a wide range of measures to bring down obesity rates.

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