Fat with facts

June 23, 2008

Certainly Americans could stand to lose a little weight. One way to aid that cause is for governments to mandate that restaurant menus contain more information on nutrition (California and New York leading the way, natch). That’s legitimate, right? One thing government can do without screwing it up too much is to get information to consumers so they can make informed decisions. But (you knew one was coming, right?):

The belief that more facts will generate wiser decisions is appealing but, at least in the realm of food, yet to be proved. No one seems to have noticed that as nutritional labeling has expanded, so have American waistlines. The federal government first required packaged foods to carry such information in the mid-1970s, and today, we are collectively fatter than we were then.

What does that suggest? Either people don’t notice what’s in the food they buy, or they don’t let the knowledge affect what goes in their mouths.

“You can certainly say that most people certainly don’t understand the food label,” former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Lester Crawford told the 2004 World Obesity Congress. “And it’s not because they can’t understand it, it’s because they don’t care to understand it.”

If people don’t heed the information they already have, they aren’t going to waste effort digesting an additional onslaught of facts.

We don’t, in fact, suffer from a dearth of facts but a surfeit. We are unble to process the information we already have, and putting more of it on our plates will improve neither our appetites nor our digestion.

This has been your periodic libertarian screed. You may now return to suspecting I am a Bush-loving Republican apologist. 

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