On the website – theheart.org, I came across an interesting piece today about a component of the Obama health-reform bill. The bill calls for fast-food chain restaurants nationwide to provide nutritional information on menu boards. The posting says that this policy is expected to be “fleshed out and implemented over the next few years.”
Putting aside the obvious discussion of why it takes “the next few years” to figure this out and get it done, I couldn’t help but wonder whether, as a person ambles up to the counter staring at the menu board to decide on today’s choice of “a heart attack in a wrapper,” this type of information would really make any difference in people’s eating habits.
Lo and behold, it turns out that studies have actually been done – albeit on a limited basis – but nonetheless some results are in.
Dr. Pooja Tandon of Seattle’s Children’s Hospital designed a implemented a prospective cohort study designed to see if menu labeling in King County, Washington, made a difference in consumer choice. King County had passed a mandatory menu labeling law. The survey/study was done to measure the difference, if any, before the new law went into effect and after as well. San Diego – where no menu labeling is required – was the “comparator group.” (No, I didn’t take statistics! Too busy studying more exciting stuff like torts).
The details of the study are set-out in theheart.org’s posting.
According to one website, which defines obesity rates as the percentage of the population with a Body Mass index (BMI) over 30, using data from 2003 for the most part, we, in the United States, can claim we are No. 1 in the world, just ahead of places like Mexico, the United Kingdom, Slovakia and Greece. If it’s any solace, according to more recent data from the World Health Organization (2008), U.S. males over the age 15 rank 5th – behind (no pun intended) the Cook Islands, Tonga, Nauru and Samoa. U.S. females in the same age group rank 8th in female obesity. With a slight shift in position for the leaders in the male population, Egypt, Iraq and the Seychelles beat out our women.
It comes as no surprise that obese people are at significant risk for developing conditions such as diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular diseases and hypertension (think stroke). When it comes to pregnancy, obesity is a known complicating factor for problems such as increased risk of complications during pregnancy and delivery, infertility and miscarriage. Increased risk of preterm delivery and stillbirth have also been shown by some studies to exist in the obese obstetric population. Do we really need to list the potential complications of surgery for obese patients?
Back to Dr. Tandon’s study -
“Parental awareness of nutrition did seem to have an impact on what parents bought for their children, especially if their children were overweight,” Tandon said. “And in parents who reported seeing nutrition information [for the first time], the number of children’s calories went down.”
You wonder what’s in those “children’s meals”?
Strikingly, average calories in the children’s meals ranged from about 820 in Seattle up to 920 in San Diego—staggering numbers for kids whose average age was eight in this study. According to the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: Adequate Nutrients Within Calorie Needs, a moderately active eight-year-old requires about 1400 to 1600 calories per day.
Here’s hoping that it doesn’t take a “few years” for legislators to (got to love the word from the quote) flesh out and implement this program. Even if it causes some percentage of the population to pause before ordering that luscious little treat for their child, it’s a healthy start.
What appears to be evident to some degree is that “media attention and general awareness [of fast food calories]” will be the best tool in the arsenal to make people aware of what they are doing to their bodies and those of their family when they belly-up to that counter the next time. The “counter” they should be thinking of is the one on the wall – the menu with the nutrition info – hopefully sooner rather than later.
Got to go now – need to do some sit-up’s and jogging in place before I file a few more lawsuits.