Why warning labels on restaurant menus are a welcome idea
March 29, 2010
BY ESTHER J. CEPEDA Sun-Times Columnist
I'll be the first to admit, I've never ever once met a person who likes to sneak an occasional smoke that was dissuaded from buying a pack of straights because of the warning label.
How long has it been since every new car manufactured or assembled in the United States rolled off the line without a warning ironed to the front visor practically begging parents not to buckle an infant car seat in front where an air bag could crush it? Yet, just the other day, I saw a knucklehead who obviously can't read simple pictographs doing just that.
Really, who among us can say that the now-ubiquitous nutrition fact labels even once kept us from a late-night binge of chocolate milk and Twinkies? No one who isn't a liar.
And yet public health measures, however pointless or counterintuitive, aren't failures because they fail to completely eradicate unhealthy behaviors. They succeed because a million little behavioral changes add up to something bigger.
Who will question that smoking labels have proved effective in at least killing the plausible deniability that ciggies aren't good for you? Most people now understand that you stick junior in the back seat. And those nutrition labels have without a doubt made an impact -- good or bad depends on what your scale said this morning -- on consumers' decision-making when it comes to buying packaged food.
That said, I'll admit I'm practically on my knees in ecstasy that the new health-care legislation -- cue the villainous music -- will require calorie counts to be posted on menus at restaurant chains with 20 or more outlets.
No more Googling "cinnamon twist calorie information" 15 minutes after I've swallowed the freshly deep-fried and sugar sprinkled sticks to see just what the damage was. No more asking the chick behind the counter if they have one of those calorie booklets so I can gauge from the largest size of onion rings how far my next run will have to be. No more borrowing a pal's iPhone calorie counter app at lunch to estimate how many calories I have left for dinner. No more excuses when I go for the hot fudge sundae (with nuts) that I couldn't quite remember whether the ice-cream was actually low-fat yogurt -- or not.
I adore an old-fashioned doughnut -- or two -- in the morning, several beef soft tacos with a sidecar of sour cream for lunch, and scoops of rocky road and vanilla ice cream on a plain cone for dessert after dinner. Even more, I love the fact that all those calorie counts will soon be out in full view for me to confront as I prepare to order.
Why? Like every other Hispanic in the United States, I'm at high risk for Type 2 diabetes and obesity. Type 2 would only be more prevalent in my immediate and extended family if any of our various Chihuahuas were diagnosed with it (and judging from the size of some of them, that's not out of the question).
So what do I do about it? I exercise a bare minimum of 30 minutes every single day of my life and really watch what I eat closely. Very, very closely. Every day is a balancing act: lone eggs in the morning so I can have the tiramisu at lunch, or salmon salad midday when I know the evening promises a large slice of birthday cake. I eat whatever I want -- just never all on one day.
Forget complaints about "The Evil Nanny State." I couldn't be happier about restaurants being loud and proud -- or getting that way -- about how much energy you'll get in exchange for your cash. If, as a side benefit, a few million people stop for a second to consider what they're about to shovel into their faces, well, that's just the cherry on top.