Guilty pleasures: An apple or a brownie

Published: December 14, 2014 4:04 PM

An apple or a brownie? If you choose the former 100-calorie food over the latter 800-calorie one, how do you quantify the loss of pleasure?

Brownie-reutersThe US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) passed sweeping new calorie-labelling rules for restaurants, making it mandatory to label the amount of calories in anything you eat anywhere. (Reuters)

The guidelines

* A couple of weeks ago, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) passed sweeping new calorie-labelling rules for restaurants, making it mandatory to label the amount of calories in anything you eat anywhere — restaurant chains, vending machines and even the butter popcorn at your local movie theatre.

* It estimates that by telling people the exact calorific count, the value of the health benefits would be between $5.3 billion and $15.8 billion over 20 years.

The hidden math

* But tucked into the FDA’s analysis was an estimate of “lost pleasure” by consumers who might change what they eat as a result of the calorie labels, Reuters reported. Like when you opt for the apple over the brownie.

* The agency’s economists estimated the “lost pleasure” at $2.2 billion to $5.27 billion over 20 years, a range that reflects the imprecise science of assigning dollar values to lost enjoyment.

* This estimate derives almost solely on a 2011 paper by a then-graduate student Jason Abaluck, though the calculation was done by internal FDA staff.

Calorie display policy

* The FDA’s calorie display policy will come into force next year and apply to restaurants or food/drink dispensing operations with 20 or more locations such as restaurant chains, movie halls and vending machines.

*In its analysis of calorie counts on menus, the FDA projected that the rule would lead to fewer cases of obesity, Type-2 diabetes and heart disease, fewer medical costs to treat those diseases, and less suffering as a result of developing those conditions. The range reflects the uncertainty on how much calorie counts on menus can change people’s behaviour.

Criticism

*Some health experts — and economists — argue that because diet is a choice, it’s not appropriate to use this kind of framework, which would be more often used to evaluate costs of forced changes.

* Consumers who eat healthier as a result “are presumably doing so because they are now better informed,” said Kenneth Warner of the University of Michigan, one of the nation’s leading experts on cost-benefit analysis. Anything a consumer freely chooses should not be treated as a forced loss of pleasure, he argued.

Brownie or apple?

*The question may ultimately be an introspective one: If calorie labels have changed what you eat, are you in fact enjoying your diet less?

By IANS

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