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Sneaky Calories

Joshua Green, who co-authored Henry Waxman's memories, argues that one reason for attaching calorie labels to menus is that corporations often purposefully mislead consumers about the health content of their food.

Congress considered the lack of information on most products serious enough from a public health standpoint that (led by Henry Waxman!), it passed the dull-sounding-but-important Nutrition Labeling and Dietary Supplement Act in 1996. Waxman devotes a full chapter to it in his book. Example of typically misleading industry behavior: Sara Lee Lite Cheesecake actually contained more calories per serving than Sara Lee's regular cheesecake. The "lite" was a marketing ploy. Confronted by an FDA task force, Sara Lee claimed that the "lite" referred to the color, not the caloric content, of the cheesecake.

Sounds like the curious case of the spinach and scallop salad offered by the Macaroni Grill. Faced with the prospect of a menu labeling law passing in California, the chain restaurant took preemptive action and slimmed the salad from 1,270 calories to 390 calories. The firm's CEO was cagey on what exactly was done to cut 900 calories from the plate. "The dish had more fat than was necessary," he explained.

By Ezra Klein  |  October 14, 2009; 12:26 PM ET
Categories:  Food  
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Joshua Green co-authored Henry Waxman's memories?! Surely he could turn his mutant powers to better uses than calorie labeling!

Posted by: CynicalJerk | October 14, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

When is Congress going to set its sight on those nebulous "promotes prostate health" or "part of a heart healthy diet" claims? I mean, that's teetering towards liberal fascism, but the claims are just bogus and make people think the things they're eating are healthier than they really are.

Posted by: NicholasBeaudrot | October 14, 2009 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Well, considering that the famous example was actually "Sara Lee Light Classic French Cheesecake", that the company said the "Light" referred to the *texture*, and that it listed the calories on the box but used a smaller slice of cake as a portion, I'd say Joshua Green is an entirely reliable chronicler of why we need the government to protect us from rapacious cheesecake thug proliferaters. Same for Klein.

Posted by: msoja | October 14, 2009 2:03 PM | Report abuse

That 1996 law has certainly done wonders to rein in obesity, hasn't it? Pointing to that law's great successes is a really persuasive argument for even more food labeling.

Posted by: tomtildrum | October 14, 2009 3:29 PM | Report abuse

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