For those who want to reduce America's burgeoning health crisis—induced in part by a self-inflicted sugar-water soda craze—here is a new approach (care of David Frum):
Doctor blogger Aaron Carroll highlights an interesting study that suggests there's a better way than a mere calorie count to get people to reduce the calorie count of their meals:
Using a web-based survey, participants were randomly assigned to one of four menus which differed only in their labeling schemes...
(1) a menu with no nutritional information, (2) a menu with calorie information, (3) a menu with calorie information and minutes to walk to burn those calories, or (4) a menu with calorie information and miles to walk to burn those calories.
There was a significant difference in the mean number of calories ordered based on menu type..., with an average of 1020 calories ordered from a menu with no nutritional information, 927 calories ordered from a menu with only calorie information, 916 calories ordered from a menu with both calorie information and minutes to walk to burn those calories, and 826 calories ordered from the menu with calorie information and the number of miles to walk to burn those calories.
The last option produces nearly a 20 percent drop in calories compared to the default case menu.* This shows that we don't need to ban sodas, as Bloomberg tried, but we do need to inform in ways that are effective. And that would necessitate that nutrition information be standardized to reflect behavioral insights.
Yes, this is a type of paternalism, but it is a mild assault on individual liberties, with possibly good impacts on health and health care costs.
*Of course, this is the short-run effect. The long-run effect may dissipate substantially.