The empty calories of FDA menu mandates | EDITORIAL

A Valentine's Day themed cream puff at Grand Cafe inside Green Valley Ranch on Thursday, Feb. 2 ...

The ever-encroaching nanny state received a boost in 2010, when the Obamacare legislation included a provision demanding that restaurants and other food purveyors include calorie counts on their menus or face fines and even criminal penalties. The intent was to shame folks into watching what they ate in an effort to attack America’s obesity epidemic.

It took eight years for the Food and Drug Administration to craft the regulations — the wheels of the administrative state grind slowly — and in 2018 most establishments began posting the calorie information of their offerings. Four years later, the result has been a big nothingburger, with zero calories of substance.

“Calorie labeling on menus hasn’t dramatically changed how many calories most people consume when they dine out, research is showing,” NBC News reported this month. This dovetails with previous studies that have reached a similar conclusion, including a 2013 review in Seattle in which the lead author said calorie menu mandates have “little or no effect on people’s ordering behaviors.”

The regulations are a case study in wishful thinking — but with a hefty price tag. Baylen Linnekin of Reason magazine estimates that the mandate cost businesses $1 billion to implement, much of which was no doubt passed along to consumers in the form of higher prices.

Charles Hughes of the Manhattan Institute has argued that the rule makes even less sense as more and more people order food online and never step foot into a traditional retail establishment. Other critics note that the ubiquitous calorie counts “provide dangerous fodder for the diet-obsessed” and can “lead to potential stress and triggers, especially for people with a history of disordered eating,” Eater magazine explained.

Those who promoted this intervention promised all sorts of miraculous benefits. Businessinsider.com gushed that one study predicted the FDA edicts would “over the average American’s lifetime … prevent about 136,000 new cases of heart disease and about 28,000 early deaths from heart disease. … In addition, they could prevent 100,000 cases of Type 2 diabetes.” All this would “save between $10 billion and $14 billion” in health care costs over three decades, while saving the U.S. economy up to $5 billion in productivity costs.

Yet there’s no evidence that any of this has come to pass or that the rules have changed consumer behavior to the extent that it ever will. Is it too much to ask that federal regulations which drain millions from the economy accomplish their stated objectives or be removed from the books? The calorie mandate hasn’t worked. Let restaurants make their own decisions.