PEOPLE CAN GROSSLY UNDERESTIMATE CALORIES WHEN THEY EAT OUT, ESPECIALLY WHEN THEY THINK THEY'RE EATING SOMETHING HEALTHY, SAYS NUTRITION AND MARKETING PROFESSOR -- "60 MINUTES" SUNDAY
Health Advocates Want to Force Restaurant Chains to List Calories on Menus
People are getting many more calories from the food they eat out than they think, especially when they think they are eating in some place healthy, says a Cornell University food and marketing professor. This kind of public misperception is great enough that health officials want to force food chains to put calories on menu boards. Lesley Stahl reports on the battle brewing between health advocates and the restaurant industry over calorie disclosure in a 60 MINUTES segment to be broadcast Sunday, Nov. 18 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
"When people are eating in a restaurant that they think is healthy, people grossly underestimate how much they eat by about 50 percent," says Brian Wansink, the Cornell professor. In one test at a food court, Wansink asks a customer to guess the caloric content of his 12-in. sub with mayonnaise, chips and juice from Subway, a chain that bills its food as a healthier fast-food choice. The young man expresses shock at learning the meal he thought was about 300 calories was 1,390. "That's more than half [the calories]...you're supposed to eat in a day?" he asks.
It is just such underestimating and overeating that helps fuel the nation's epidemic of obesity believes New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden. He initiated a regulation in New York City requiring fast food chains to post the calories on their menu boards. Seattle passed a similar law, as did the California State legislature (though vetoed by the governor), plus 18 other states and municipalities are considering menu labeling. It is a fact that many chains already disclose nutritional information on Websites or in-store in brochures and tray liners, but Friedan says no one sees it. "What restaurants are doing now is a sham. They're putting information on Websites and they know perfectly well that very few people see it there."
The New York State Restaurant Association successfully blocked Frieden's regulation by arguing it singled out chains that voluntarily posted the info someplace other than on menus. Other eateries that do not already calculate and post calories were exempt. But Frieden is rewriting the regulation and says it will pass eventually. The restaurant industry is poised to fight such regulations and legislation across the board because they say menu-labeling is impractical, and that they already provide the information to customers. "We're giving you the option to find this information...to use this information. You're telling me that you're not taking the choice, but that is your choice," Denny Lynch, a spokesman for Wendy's, tells Stahl.
But Wansink predicts that even if the menu boards all contain caloric information, human nature may prevail to undermine the intent of such regulations. "If [people] believe they ate this nice, healthy lunch, they're more likely to eat snacks...more calories...later on in the day," he says.
Says Frieden, "Obesity is a terrible epidemic....We need to take action. [Posting caloric content] is not going to solve the problem, but it's part of a solution."