There was a story in the newspapers last week about a study done in New York City that found — and hold onto your hats here — that people don’t pay much attention to the calorie counts when they’re ordering meals from a fast-food place.
You’ll remember that New York City was the first city in the nation that required certain kinds of restaurants to post calorie information. And they did it on the grounds that if people knew how many calories their favorite items had, they’d modify their behavior, they wouldn’t eat so much, and that would cut down on health problems and obesity.
Well, so much for that theory. The results of the study — which according to The New York Times were to be posted on the online journal of Health Affairs last week — showed that nothing changed after the calorie-posting law went into effect. In fact, people in the survey typically ordered meals with more calories than the average person ordered last summer when the labeling law went into effect.
In that light, it looks like requiring fast-food restaurants to post calorie counts actually made the problem worse. I can’t wait for the science to catch up with that one, but I think the answer is pretty obvious.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think most people pay much attention to calories when they order fast food. I’ll confess a certain weakness for Big Macs, and I hit the drive-through for a fix every couple of weeks. And the last thing I’m thinking about when they hand me a bag of goodies is how many calories my Big Mac has (around 704, and 1,230 with a Super Size fry) and whether my waistline can take the hit.
Nope, what I’m thinking about is whether I want to wait until I get home to eat, or whether I just want to find a spot in the parking lot and wolf it all down while it’s hot and yummy.
My dog, who usually accompanies me on these outings, watches my calorie intake pretty closely, although she never watches her own. She’s more than happy to eat her own Yappy Meal (a small, plain hamburger patty with no bun) and she’ll welcome the occasional fry if one happens to fall off my lap.
Although I couldn’t care less how many calories my lunch has, it would be pretty tough to make an informed choice, even if I wanted to. They might post calorie information inside, but you never see it if you go through the drivethrough.
I tried to find out last week and was less than successful. What follows is a close approximation of my conversation with the voice of the drive-through order-taking lady.
Her: “Welcome to McDonald’s. Can I take your order?”
Me: “Yes, but first I have a couple of questions. How many calories are there in a Big Mac.”
Her (after a long silence): “I don’t know, but I suppose I could find out for you.”
Her (after a brief wait): “According to what I read, a little over 700.”
Me: “OK. How about if I leave out the lettuce?”
Her (after a long silence): “Are you serious?”
Me: “Yeah, and let me know what the damagewould be if I left out the pickles and had you scrape the sesame seeds off the bun.”
Her: “I don’t think we have that information, but I can’t imagine lettuce and pickles add up to much.”
Me: “You’re probably right. How about if I take out the extra piece of bread between the hamburger patties?
Her: “Do you hear those horns honking?”
Me: “Yes, I do.”
Her: “Those are the people behind you in the drive-through lane. Perhaps you’d like to come inside and speak to the manager. I’m sure he’d be happy to answer your questions.”
Me: “You don’t like the manager much, do you?”
Her: “Excuse me, sir?”
Me (laughing): “Never mind. Just give me a Big Mac meal, and don’t try to stick me with a diet soda.”
Her (obviously relieved): “Please drive to the first window, and have a nice day!”
Maybe you’d have better luck. Why don’t you try that the next time you’re at the drivethrough and let me know what happens? If police cars start arriving before they answer the questions to your satisfaction, you’ve probably pushed it too far.
Word of advice: If you’re cuffed in the back of a squad car, don’t leave your dog to guard the food.
• • •
Even if the junk food makes us fat, there’s good news out there if you look for it.
According to a recent story on CNN, as Americans have become increasingly plump, clothing manufacturers have responded by fudging the size labels on their clothing so people won’t feel so bad about themselves. That’s why, if you really wear a size 14 dress, a size 10 off the rack will often fit perfectly. This information was a new one on me, but it makes sense from a marketing perspective.
According to the same story, a working paper from a study group led by a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston said that the average person’s perception of “normal” vs. “overweight” has changed in the last few years. In other words, both men and women have becomemore comfortable with their size and now say that it’s normal to be a few pounds heavier than they said in the last survey.
The experts say this is a good thing, because it indicates that our self-image is improving. On the down side, they said, if people think that slightly overweight is normal, there’s not much motivation to lose the weight, which could have health implications.
I’d tell you how worried I am about that, but it’s not polite to talk with your mouth full.
• • •
I got a funny note from Rabbi Don Weber — who holds a private pilot’s license — in regard to my recent column about distracted drivers and the danger of text messaging while driving.
“Your column on distracted driving mentioned the new regulations for pilots, so I thought I’d share two relevant pieces of wisdom from the aviation community.
“1. The most dangerous part of an airplane is the nut that holds the wheel.
“2. You can make something foolproof, but not damn-fool proof.”
You sure can’t argue with that, Rabbi Weber.
Gregory Bean is the former executive editor of Greater Media Newspapers. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.