Sunday, July 21, 2013

The limits of Bloombergism

Bloombergism -- the snarky name for Mayor Michael Bloomberg's idea that the government can hector people in to better behavior -- definitely has its limits. Apparently, for example, education about healthy calorie consumption causes fat people to eat... more.

You might think that customers buying their lunch at McDonald’s would order meals with fewer calories if someone handed them a slip of paper reminding them that women should eat no more than 650 calories at lunchtime and men should not exceed 800 calories. But you would be wrong.

Instead, researchers found that diners who received these supposedly helpful reminders actually purchased more calories than those who didn’t, according to a new study in the American Journal of Public Health.

One theory is that such people do not, perhaps because they cannot, do math:
The study authors have a theory. Perhaps their plan backfired because people compared the calorie count of their entree to the calorie information on their slip of paper and got “a false sense of staying within the calorie allowance,” they wrote. That, in turn, may have made them feel safe ordering a bigger soda or to supersize their fries. A Big Mac packs 550 calories, which doesn’t sound so bad, until you add in 500 calories for large fries and 280 calories for a large Coke.
Sounds like professorial condescension to me. Maybe people were previously worried that they were massively over the limit, and the little reminder slips were reassurance that they were not far off and could deprive themselves at some meal less tasty than McDonald's. Or, maybe, people found the little reminder slips obnoxious, and rebelled even as they agreed to participate in the study. We admit, our inclination would be to do what we could to mess up the results, which is generally how we react to public opinion polls.

Anyway, here's the best bit:

A previous study that tested the value of posting calorie information on menus found that it did steer diners toward lower-calorie meals. But in that study, conducted at a Subway sandwich shop, it only worked for customers who had a healthy BMI, not those who were overweight.
Or, maybe, "it only worked for customers who give a shit, not those who don't." Who really knows? What we do know is this: Many people, especially American people, do not enjoy being told how to live their lives and will subvert those who attempt to do so.

1 comment:

  1. I read Michael Bloomberg's autobiography "Bloomberg by Bloomberg" in 1997. When I finished the book, I knew I wanted nothing to do with the guy.

    - DEC (Jungle Trader)


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