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Cass R. Sunstein

Don't Give Up on Fast-Food Calorie Labels

New research says calorie counts alone don't change what people order. Better labels might.
Calories: A few.

Calories: A few.

Photographer: Scott Olson/Getty Images

One of the less-noticed provisions of the Affordable Care Act requires calorie labels at all chain restaurants and similar retail food establishments, following similar efforts in New York City and elsewhere. A new study raises doubts about whether those labels will make much difference to public health. The right response isn't to abandon the effort, but to improve it, and consider new approaches.

 The idea behind such labels is appealing and simple: Consumers don’t know how many calories are in the foods they buy, and once they found out they'll probably make healthier choices. Some hamburger meals can exceed 3500 calories. Some pizzas? More than 2000. And there are major surprises. Avocadoes taste great, but they’re pretty fattening, and salad dressing and olive oil can have a load of calories.