Mandatory Calorie Counting Struck Down by Judge

A Federal Judge last week said that New York City was wrong to make fast food restaurants list calories on their menu boards.

The judge did not weigh in on whether the law was an effective way to trim down New Yorkers, but he found that it conflicted with federal law, which already regulates the posting of nutritional information. The awkwardly written law only applied to fast food restaurants, which already voluntarily posted nutrition information. It was never enforced because of pending legal questions.

News of the judge's decision comes a day after Los Angeles floated the idea of zoning restrictions on where fast food restaurants may exist in the first place. The theory behind both the ill-conceived New York bill -- which will likely be re-written to be consistent with federal law -- and its more aggressive but equally nonsensical West Coast cousin is that fast food is to blame for the nation's obesity crisis. More precisely, they claim in L.A., poor people are especially enticed by the low price of fast food, so the government has to protect them by forbidding such establishments in certain neighborhoods.

This notion is as wrong as it is widespread.

First, healthy options have been available at fast food restaurants for years. Yet consumers have not made the choice to purchase them. More important, supermarkets do provide inexpensive healthy options. Consider a bag of frozen vegetables that also includes protein-rich beans and simply needs to be steamed. I recently bought a store brand bag of such vegetables, on sale for 99 cents. And that was in pricey Manhattan. Throw in some spices, and cook it alongside some inexpensive brown rice and a small piece of your favorite lean meat. This meal is wholesome, tasty, easy to prepare, and only pennies more than one of those demonized fast food meals. What the food nannies who are trying to dictate our choices should realize is that most meals -- low-calorie or otherwise -- are prepared and consumed at home, making restaurant restrictions futile as well as wrongheaded.

So there are choices. Trying to keep certain restaurants out of a neighborhood -- or forcibly revealing that French fries have a high calorie count (surprise!) -- will probably not change the choices people make. More education about how to make wise dietary choices might.

With coast-to-coast efforts focusing attention on fast food establishments, advocates are missing opportunities to publicize positive approaches that might actually do some good. Officials from New York to Los Angeles, and everywhere in between, should stop their politically popular but failing McFix-it approach and instead simply take a walk down the vegetable aisle to show their constituents what is possible.

Jeff Stier is an associate director of the American Council on Science and Health (,