January 24, 2008

Personal responsibility doesn't relieve companies from doing the RightThing

New York City's Board of Health tries to keep the rats out of restaurants in several different ways.

On Tuesday the board voted to require any chain that operates 15 outlets or more, nationwide, would have to display calorie on their menus. It is very similar to the rules that a federal judge struck down back in the fall of 2007.

Many people believe these issues of obesity and how much you eat, are matters of personal responsibility. No one forces you to eat a Burger King double Whopper with cheese (990 calories). No one forces you to drink a grande-size white hot chocolate at Starbucks (490).

But you have to wonder about an entire industry which revolts against providing some basic information to the consumer. What are they trying to hide?

When you hear someone invoke the Fifth Amendment and refuse to give out information, isn't your first inclination to wonder, what do they have to hide? Not, that it's a personal freedom and you should invoke it whether you have nothing or something to hide. No, when large corporations want to do something dirty or something that would be perceived as dirty, then they hide the information.

All that the Board of Health asked the fast food restaurants to do was make the information more accessible at the point of sale. The restaurants have said it's too costly, too complex, too confusing. And they hid behind a posse of lawyers to get the rules overturned.

The New York Times reports: City Tries Again to Require Restaurants to Post Calories:

"New Yorkers “Most people underestimate calorie content by a lot,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the city’s health commissioner, adding that he considered the rules a potent weapon in the crusade against rising obesity rates. “Even dietitians get a lot of it wrong.”

Dr. Frieden said his department’s research showed that consumers often make faulty assumptions about the calorie counts of items on a menu. But when they have the information, he said, they tend to choose food with fewer calories.

As a result of the regulations, set to go into effect on March 31, Dr. Frieden predicted that some restaurants will eliminate some of their offerings, like appetizers that top 2,000 calories.

“The real question for us is, is the industry going to become part of the solution or are they going to keep going to court to hide from the customers what they’re serving them?” Dr. Frieden said. “If your business model depends on keeping information from your consumers, that’s a problem.”
I ask you: should restaurants keep the information away from you? Or is it your responsibility to remember that a McDonald's cheeseburger has less calories that a chicken sandwich?

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