A Trillion Dollar Nudge

Nudging Science CliffWhen science fails, try power!

Calorie counts on restaurant menus are now required as part of the new Health Care Reform legislation.  I hadn’t heard that this was on anyone’s table during the run up with this legislation, but I’m not surprised that provisions like this made it to the final bill.  This is how you change things when you’ve got bad science.  You buddy up with allies, horse trade on issues, and voila, you’ve saved the world.

The WSJ has a good article with nice balance on the pros and cons of calorie counts.  As I’ve reported in this blog, calorie counts on menus have no practical effect on obesity although advocates of the legislation assert that it does.  I personally know some of these advocates and from that experience I can publicly assert these folks can’t count past 10 without taking off their shoes.  They don’t understand their own work, but because they did the work with the intent of proving calorie counts reduce eating, IT MUST BE TRUE!

This action falls into the category of Nudges, those little things that make big differences.  I’ve assessed Nudge here and can’t imagine it will do anything except make Nudgers feel good about themselves, especially the zealots at FDA who will implement this.  It should be fun to listen to their stories in the future as they read the fast food tea leaves and try to link them to obesity.  I’ll go out on a thick limb here:  Obesity rates in America will not decline at even a Small Effect over the next three years (before the next Presidential election).

My angst over this is that there are proven ways to motivate people toward healthier lifestyles.  Whether this is a matter for government regulation is another issue.  My point is there is scientifically proven stuff that works.  Calorie counts on menus do not.  The law is a disaster for any one who wants to see healthier people, but great for advocates at the Cool Table.  This foolish Nudge will gobble up resources, produce no practical change, and divert, disrupt, or destroy efforts that would work.

Remember the Rules.

Power corrupts persuasion.

You Cannot Persuade a Falling Apple.