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Do Food Calorie Count Laws Reduce Kids' Caloric Intake?

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By Minara El-Rahman on January 27, 2010 9:55 AM

With the recent rash of calorie laws passed, people have been wondering if the laws do any good. Do the laws really help people take food calorie count into consideration? Do they really reduce the caloric intake for consumers?

We wrote about the calorie law passed in New Jersey in FindLaw's Common Law blog. The calorie law would require chain restaurants in New Jersey to post the number of calories in a product right on the menu.

New York City was the first jurisdiction to introduce a calorie law back in 2008. It was followed by California in July 2009, Maine, Massachusetts, and Oregon. Similar measures are being considered in 20 states and localities to date. Philadelphia has enacted a calorie law recently. There is pending federal legislation that calls for food chains with 20 or more restaurants to post food calorie count on menus and boards.

The Wall Street Journal reports that a study done by the Stanford Graduate School of Business released this month indicates that when Starbucks started listing the calories of their beverages in New York back in April 2008, consumers started switching to lower calorie options. The study illustrates how food chains may be more driven by consumers versus actual legislation. Chains only started offering lower calorie options because of consumer demand increased vesrus because of legislation.

It still seems to reap some benefits for consumers. According to BusinessWeek, new research indicates that parents of children tended to select healthier options when they were provided with food calorie count information. Dr. Pooja Tandon, a graduate fellow in the department of general pediatrics at the University of Washington in Seattle told BusinessWeek: "When parents are provided with calorie information they chose about 100 calories less [per meal] for their 3- to 6-year-old child compared to parents who didn't have that information."

These studies run counter to a study done by NYU and Yale which tracked consumers who went to fast food joints in poor neighborhoods. That study found that calorie counts made no difference.

No matter that the studies reveal, legislators hope that the laws are actually helping consumers. Mayor Bloomberg was quoted by the New York Times' City Room blog on the Starbucks study: "This study helps confirm what we've believed all along. Consumers can make healthier choices when supplied with the right information, and businesses can profit while offering their customers healthier alternatives."

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