by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Calorie-labeling

Dec 12 2014

The loss of pleasure caused by menu labeling?

Several readers alerted me to a Reuters article about the FDA’s “lost pleasure” analysis of the effects of the new menu labeling rules.

U.S. health regulators estimate that consumers will suffer up to $5.27 billion in “lost pleasure” over 20 years when calorie counts on restaurant menus discourage people from ordering french fries, brownies and other high-calorie favorites.

The lost-pleasure analysis, which is criticized by some leading economists and public health groups, was tucked into new regulations published last month by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration…Public health advocates alerted Reuters to the inclusion of the analysis, which they say makes such regulations more vulnerable to challenges by industry because it narrows the gap between the government’s projections of a regulation’s benefits and costs. Amit Narang, an attorney at Public Citizen, said the lost pleasure calculation could help companies or trade groups to challenge the menu rule in court.

I searched the FDA’s Federal Register notice but could not find the word “pleasure” anywhere in it.

No wonder.  I was looking at the wrong document using the wrong search term.

The right document is the FDA’s impact analysis of menu labeling. The correct term is “consumer surplus” (see page 92).

If consumers respond to this information [calorie labels] by reducing consumption there will be a loss in consumer welfare associated with substitution away from certain food…We acknowledge that the reduction in consumer surplus, as a proportion of gross benefits, could range from 0 to 100 percent. Due to limitations in available data regarding the degree to which consumer surplus is lost in the face of consumption changes as a result of menu labeling…we simply adjust gross benefits downward by the midpoint of the range, or 50 percent, uniformly distributed between 10 and 90 percent, and estimate the loss in consumer surplus to range from $2.2 billion to $5.27 billion.

The readers who sent this to me were incredulous that an economic value—in the billions, yet—would be assigned to eating less junk food.

I had heard this before.  Some years ago, I gave a talk on obesity to a conference of agricultural economists.  During the Q and A, I was asked how I accounted for the costs of the loss of pleasure people might feel for not being able to eat so much.

I did not have a good answer to that question then, and I still don’t, other than suggesting that the pleasures of health easily compensate for those costs.

But you have to love the way economists think, no?

Nov 25 2014

At long last menu labeling, and worth the wait!

The FDA released its long-awaited regulations on menu labeling at 12:01 this morning.

The big and most welcome news: the regulations apply across the board to

  • Meals from sit‐down restaurants
  • Foods purchased at drive‐through windows
  • Take‐out food, such as pizza
  • Foods, such as made‐to‐order sandwiches, ordered from a menu or menu board at a grocery store or delicatessen
  • Foods you serve yourself from a salad or hot food bar
  • Muffins at a bakery or coffee shop
  • Popcorn purchased at a movie theater or amusement park
  • A scoop of ice cream, milk shake or sundae from an ice cream store
  • Hot dogs or frozen drinks prepared on site in a convenience or warehouse store
  • Certain alcoholic beverages

The only exceptions: foods from grocery stores or delis that require additional preparation such as deli meats, cheeses, or large deli salads.

Why is this big news?  As I’ve written previously in this space,

  • It’s been more than 4 years since Congress called for menu labels (in the Affordable Care Act signed by President Obama in 2010)
  • When the FDA first proposed the regs in April 2011, it excluded movie theaters and other places whose primary purpose is not to sell food.
  • It also excluded alcoholic beverages (these are regulated by the Treasury Department)
  • The pizza lobby (yes, there is such a thing–remember “pizza is a vegetable” in school lunches?) fought to be excluded.
  • The National Grocers Association and other retailers who sell prepared foods fought for exclusion.
  • Rumors were that the White House wanted weaker regulations.

Well here they are.

As for the response:

Center for Science in the Interest (CSPI), which has led the menu labeling efforts, is understandably pleased.  Congratulations!

The National Restaurant Association has pressed for national regulations to make the rules consistent across the country.  It says:

We joined forces with more than 70 public health and stakeholder groups to advocate for a federal nutrition standard so that anyone dining out can have clear, easy-to-use nutrition information at the point of ordering – information that is presented in the same way, no matter what part of the country. From Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine, diners in restaurants will have a new tool to help them make choices that are right for them.

The New York Times reports that the The National Grocers Association said: “We are disappointed that the F.D.A.’s final rules will capture grocery stores, and impose such a large and costly regulatory burden on our members”

Really?  Lots of people eat at grocery stores these days (think: Whole Foods).

The Washington Post reports that the Food Marketing Institute is also disappointed.

I’m not.  Calorie labeling is an excellent tool for public education.

The regs won’t go into effect for another year or two.

Watch the lobbying begin!

In the meantime, congratulations to the FDA for putting public health first.

 

 

 

 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/calorie-counts-coming-to-a-restaurant-movie-theater-vending-machine-near-you/2014/11/24/e5bd25ae-7415-11e4-a5b2-e1217af6b33d_story.html

 

Nov 10 2014

What ever happened to menu labels?

It’s been 4 years since President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act authorizing menu labels to go national.

In 2011, the FDA proposed rules for public comment.  It proposed final rules in 2013:

But the FDA has never released the final rules.

How come?

The rumors I’m hearing say they are being held up by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

I first wrote about the delay in April 2013.

I complained about the delay again four months ago, when rumors suggested that it was due to pressures from owners of pizza chains and movie theaters.

I quoted Politico Pro Agriculture on the White House-induced delay:

It was three months ago today that the White House first received FDA’s final rules for calorie labels on menus and vending machines, and by the Office of Management and budget’s own rules, that means time is up. Interagency review at OMB is supposed to take no more than 90 days before the final release of a measure, though that timeframe is often extended with little explanation on more controversial initiatives. While OMB is always mum on its schedule for rule reviews and releases, the end of the standard review period is sometimes a hint that something will be coming, if not today — the day before a long weekend — then soon. In the meantime, brush up on the issue here: http://politico.pro/1mKNcFr and here: http://politico.pro/1lzZLDe.

Come on White House OMB: the election is over.  Let the FDA release the rules, please.

This is about public education, which is supposed to be bipartisan.

Oct 13 2014

Rules for calorie labeling on restaurant menus: where are they?

Remember menu labels?  We’ve had them in New York City since 2008.

In 2010, President signed national menu labeling into law as part of the Affordable Care Act.  The FDA proposed rules for labels in 2011, collected comments on the proposed rules, missed the July 3, 2014 deadline for issuing them, and by all reports sent them to the White House Office of Management and Budget last April.

What is the holdup?  Lobbying of course.

  • The delay on releasing the final rules is widely reported to be due to lobbying efforts by industry groups.  Known to have visited the White House and FDA officials are, among others, the Food Marketing Institute, Publix Super Market, Schnuck Markets, Kroger, Dominos Pizza, the Pizza Hut Franchise Association and Hungry Howies.
  • The Food Marketing Institute (FMI), the National Grocers Association (NGA) and Food Industry Association Executives (FIAE) held a lobbying “fly-in” to prevent FDA’s final menu labeling rule for calorie disclosures being extended to grocery stores.
  • A bill backed by the supermarket industry is the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act (H.R. 1249/S. 1756) which would require menu labeling only for establishments where the majority of business is derived from restaurant-type food.

As for whether menu labels do any good:

At the moment, studies of the effects of menu labeling are restricted to laboratory models or situations in New York and other cities that passed such laws within the last few years.

More definitive research must wait for the final FDA rules and their application.

How about releasing the rules soon?  They’ve been dragging on way too long.

 

 

Jul 7 2014

Use of menu labeling: baseline data from USDA

USDA has a report out on consumers’ use of nutrition information in restaurants before the menu labeling law goes into effect.

What law?  The menu-labeling provision that is part of the Affordable Care Act still—four years later—waiting for the FDA to get around to issuing final rules (I last wrote about this in April 2013).

In 2011, the FDA proposed rules for public comment, and proposed final rules in 2013:

These too were opened for public comment with the process expected to be completed in February 2014.  Oops.  Missed that one.

Rumors are that the FDA is under pressure from pizza chains and movie theaters to be exempt from the final rules, and that the White House is holding them up.  The White House has had them for 90 days.  That’s supposed to be the limit.

According to Politico Pro Agriculture

It was three months ago today that the White House first received FDA’s final rules for calorie labels on menus and vending machines, and by the Office of Management and budget’s own rules, that means time is up. Interagency review at OMB is supposed to take no more than 90 days before the final release of a measure, though that timeframe is often extended with little explanation on more controversial initiatives. While OMB is always mum on its schedule for rule reviews and releases, the end of the standard review period is sometimes a hint that something will be coming, if not today — the day before a long weekend — then soon. In the meantime, brush up on the issue here: http://politico.pro/1mKNcFr and here: http://politico.pro/1lzZLDe

In the meantime, the USDA has done some research and come up with some interesting findings:

Among people who eat out, the ones most likely to use nutrition information on menu boards are those who:

  • Eat out less frequently
  • Have other healthy behaviors (such as having dark green vegetables at home).
  • Rate their diets as good.
  • Are women.
  • Participate in SNAP.

SNAP participants?  Really?  If true, SNAP participants are more eager for calorie information than the general population, and good for them!

These results explain much about the confusing findings from studies of New York City’s menu labeling law.  These generally find no overall effect although calorie labels have a big effect on people who are conscious of health to begin with (me, for example).

FDA: how about getting out the final rules?  Then we can sit back and watch USDA economists compare what’s happening to these baseline results.

Apr 1 2013

Menu labeling: What’s new?

Today I’m doing a roundup of items about menu labels.  Remember them?

The President signed calorie labels into law when he signed the health care act more than three years ago.

The FDA has still not issued rules for them.

Where are they?

The Associated Press tried to find out.

It quotes FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg :

There are very, very strong opinions and powerful voices both on the consumer and public health side and on the industry side, and we have worked very hard to sort of figure out what really makes sense and also what is implementable…menu labeling has turned out to be one of the FDA’s most challenging issues.

Why?  The restaurant and food industries don’t like it.  They want exemptions for movie theaters, airplanes, bowling alleys and other businesses whose primary business is not to sell food.   And alcohol, of course.

And rumors continue that the White House Office of Management and Budget is holding them up.

Will menu labels work?

They certainly work for me.

And it looks like they might work for other people too, especially if accompanied by traffic-light labels indicating calorie levels.  Or so says a recent study from Oklahoma State.

Calorie counts most influenced purchases when accompanied by a green light label for foods with less than 400 calories, a yellow label for foods with between 401 and 800 calories, and a red label on those with more than 800 calories.

Are the posted calorie amounts accurate?

With just a few exceptions, they are close enough not to worry about, says Consumer Reports.

Come on, FDA, get the rules out so everybody can have as much fun with these as I do.

Feb 8 2013

Rumor: the White House is holding out for weak calorie labeling

I hope the rumors I’m hearing are not true.

What sources are telling me is that the White House has decided not to allow the FDA to require calorie labels in movie theaters or anywhere else where selling food is not the primary business.

If these rumors have any validity, this situation is a sad commentary on how corporate pressures are undermining Michelle Obama’s Let Move campaign.

There is no practical reason that keeps movie theaters from posting calorie labels.

Plenty are already doing it.  New York City has had calorie labeling in movie theaters since 2008.  And guess what?  The world has not come to an end.

It’s approaching three years since President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, which authorizes national calorie labeling.

But the FDA still has not issued final rules, reportedly because the White House is holding them up.

The delay has left plenty of time for industry lobbying and pushback.

If the new rules exempt movie theaters and other such places, New York will not be able to continue requiring them to post the information.  That would be a significant setback.

So would exempting prepared foods in chain groceries and convenience stores, as the Center for Science in the Public Interest makes clear.

If you have concerns about this issue, send a message to Mrs. Obama at the White House.

Menu labeling that covers movie theaters as well as fast-food places will help people make healthier food choices.  It will also be a significant achievement of Let’s Move.

In the meantime, I’m keeping fingers crossed that the rumors are false.

Jan 31 2013

FDA’s research on food labels: any help?

Nutrition Facts panels on food labels are notoriously confusing.  People who use them usually look for only one item such as fat or calories.

As I’ve discussed previously. the label is so difficult to interpret that the FDA devotes pages on its website to explaining it.  When the FDA did the original research in the early 1990s, it tested a large number of formats.  When it became clear that people did not understand any of them very well, the FDA chose the least worst—the one that was understood least poorly.

Two decades later, the FDA is revisiting the Nutrition Facts panel to make it easier to understand in the light of today’s concerns about calories and obesity.  Once again, it is testing multiple formats.  The results of the first round of research have just been published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (JAND), and reporters are trying to make sense of them.

FDA researchers tested 10 formats differing in number of servings and columns (1 or 2, each), font size, and wording.  They asked respondents for opinions about the healthfulness of the product, number of calories and nutrients per serving, perceptions of the label, and the ability to choose healthier products and those with fewer calories.  This, like the research in the early 1990s, is complicated.

The result:

For products that contain 2 servings but are customarily consumed at a single eating occasion, using a single-serving or dual-column labeling approach may help consumers make healthier food choices.

Here’s an example of one of the formats that may help:

Soda companies are already doing something like this, but a 20-ounce soda has more than 2 servings.  Serving size is what confuses.  If it’s 100 calories per serving, those calories have to be multiplied by the number of servings per container.

The Institute of Medicine produced two reports for the FDA on front-of-package labels and also suggested a way to integrate its ideas into the Nutrition Facts label.

Is the FDA testing this idea?  I hope so.

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