In 2010 I went to a New York Starbucks for a coffee and breakfast. With my coffee I decided to order pastry, when I noticed the pastry was labelled with the price and a calorie count. Calorie boards were introduced by Mayor Bloomberg on the assumption that if people had more information about calories consumed, they’d consume less.
But my gut instinct at Starbucks was to assess calorie-value-for-dollar, and started looking at how I could get more calories (that extra sweet donut) for less cost.
A report by the Washington Post now shows I am not alone. Companies are actually promoting (see picture above) higher calories at lower cost. The report states:
McDonald’s is using the calorie count for the exact opposite purpose public-health advocates intended: It’s using high calorie counts to convey what an incredible deal their food is. Look how many calories you get for only $5.69! That’s a way better per-calorie deal than pretty much anything else on the board.
The article also concedes:
Most studies have found little effect from the introduction of calorie counts…
Is it possible calorie boards can have the reverse effect of those intended? My experience says ‘yes’, and a study following the introduction of Mayor Bloomberg’s calorie boards shows this is what is happening. Perhaps staff at the McDonalds checkout should start asking consumers whether they want calories with that?