Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Every Little Bit Helps

An early appointment this morning left you without time for your usual healthy breakfast. Now that the meeting is over, you're famished and it is too long to wait until lunch. On your way back to the office, you stop in the local Starbucks to pick up a muffin and a cup of coffee. 

You are perusing the choices and suddenly notice the calories displayed on the menu and prominently on the packaging. What? 
  • Apple Bran Muffin: 350 calories. 
  • Blueberry Scone: 460 calories. 
  • Cheese Danish: 420 calories. 
  • Double Iced Cinnamon Roll: 490 calories.
  • Zucchini Walnut Muffin: 490 calories.
Wow! Zucchini and Walnuts are healthy for you! How do they end up being almost 500 calories? You move to the hot breakfast choices and have some better luck:
  • Egg White, Spinach and Feta Wrap: 280 calories
  • Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon with Egg Whites on English Muffin: 320 calories
  • Starbucks Perfect Oatmeal: 140 calories
You opt for the oatmeal and the deluxe fruit blend (90 calories), choose a unsweetened tea to drink and you're on your way. Breakfast total: 230 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, 5 grams of protein. You've done very well!

Now, consider this... what would you have selected were it not for the calorie counts so clearly displayed? Maybe you would have gone with one of the other hot breakfasts... you're pretty aware of your food choices. But if you had gone for the scone or one of the muffins? You would have loaded your body with processed food to start the day. To be clear, this is not an indictment of Starbucks. They've made a decent effort in recent years to eliminate trans fat in their foods and provide healthier choices. 

This is about requiring places to post calories on the menu. The FDA plans on requiring many more places to post calorie counts (including airplanes, movie theaters and convenience stores). Contained in the healthcare law is the requirement for chains with 20 or more locations to include calorie information on menus. This part of the law was effective immediately so you will start seeing the information soon (or you will when the penalties begin next year).

People disagree if the practice is effective. Personally, I think it is effective... when traveling, a Starbucks offers consistent and reasonably healthy options in a sea of other bad choices. I've wandered into a Starbucks in New York City and it has a real impact to see the calories before you order. To combat the ever-increasing obesity numbers and to help to educate people so they begin to understand, we need to do something. If people are given the clear choice to choose between the cinnamon roll and the apple bran muffin, some percentage of them will make the better choice and save the 140 calories. 

Plus, this policy has the added benefit of helping the restaurants and chains and movie theaters begin to adapt their offerings and include more healthy choices. After all, do you want to be the owner of a place looking over your menu board only to discover most everything on there is 500+ calories? I don't think so. How could you live with yourself? 

There is nothing wrong with information and education. And, everything is wrong with hiding information just to make a sale. 

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