Now be honest, when you walk into or drive through a fast food restaurant and get ready to place your order, what are you thinking about? If you are honest, it will likely be what you want to put in your mouth in the next 5 minutes. Do you feel like a hamburger, chicken, fries, a breakfast sandwich, a spicy taco, something sweet, or a salad? In other words, you are focused on the taste, the feel, if it is on the value menu, or if the combo is a good deal. Also top of mind will likely be the questions, how long with this take, and will they get the order right?
While you are waiting for your food, your attention will be drawn to the woman standing behind you in line who is now placing her order. “Why is she wearing her pajamas in public?” you ponder. “Is she going to work dressed that way?” If we are honest, we will admit that one of the last things we are likely to think about or pay attention to is the literature display at the far end of the counter that holds the nutrition facts about all the items on the menu. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has ruled that food outlets with more than 20 locations must list calorie counts on their menus by December 2016.
The theory behind this mandate is that, if we as consumers know what the calorie content of the food we are ordering, we will make “healthier choices.” It is a theory that has been proven wrong. A new study, conducted by researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center, serves up the grim conclusion that calorie labels, on their own, do not reduce the overall number of calories ordered. According to the study, there was “no consistent change in the nutritional content of foods and beverages purchased or in how often respondents purchased fast food.”
Researchers surveyed fast food patrons in New York City, and 12% said they noticed the nutrition information. But noticing it had no impact on their menu choices. So let’s be honest, the last thing we are thinking about when we go to a fast food outlet is nutrition. Is this bad? No, it just means sometimes we are more interested in time, taste, or cost. What is not so good is if we make this choice 3 times a day every day.
The nutritional do-gooders have been trying to keep us out of fast food places for years. They limit their location, limit meal and drink sizes, mandate certain menu choices for children, and more — all in the name of slowing the ballooning obesity rate in the US. These policies have not been effective. Because for far too many Americans, we just don’t care about the number of calories or fat molecules we stuff ourselves each day.
Eating a healthy and balanced diet is not hard; we just have to want to do it and be willing to make intentional food and lifestyle choices. Education and motivation — not regulation — is the key to success. So, as we enter the holiday eating season, let’s enjoy our food but make choices that are good for our current state of health. We need to be honest with ourselves and take personal responsibility for our own diet and health. If we fail to do this, the food police will be ready to step in and start making those choices for us.
By Gary Truitt