Guilty pleasures: An apple or a brownie

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?

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.


*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?


Get live Stock Prices from BSE, NSE, US Market and latest NAV, portfolio of Mutual Funds, Check out latest IPO News, Best Performing IPOs, calculate your tax by Income Tax Calculator, know market’s Top Gainers, Top Losers & Best Equity Funds. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Financial Express Telegram Financial Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel and stay updated with the latest Biz news and updates.