The nutrition nannies are never satisfied

The rightwing constantly complains about nanny state and ever now and then I agree with them, a little. Mostly denouncing the nanny state is a smokescreen for brutal social policy so the rich can get their taxcuts and thus totally disingenuous. But experts/regulators can get carried away, in their own kind of bubble, and thus just irritate people with their scolding instead of doing some good.

So now I see, that even before it’s implemented, the nutrition scolds are already attacking the nutrition labeling at fast food restaurants. In short, people are too stupid to know what’s good for them and thus expecting them to use a calorie rating to make food choices is leaving people too independent. Now they probably have some (vague) facts on their side, that many people do ignore calorie ratings (kinda self-fulfilling, if most people cared about their waistlines they actually probably wouldn’t even need the nutrition statements so much, so many people don’t care and changing the labeling or scolding them isn’t going to make any difference).

But I think they make two significant mistakes in the reasoning in this post.

  1. Their alternative plan, labeling food by amount of exercise required to burn the food’s energy, ignores how exercise calorie burn ratings work. Almost all exercise is variable in the calories burned since current body weight plays a major role in the formula. Moving a 250lb body takes more energy than moving a 150lb body, simple physics. And a tall 200lb body is not overweight with a short 160lb body is, and burn rate is different. And the type of exercise matters too. And the intensity of the exercise matters (a 15 minute walk up a steep hill burns a lot more than a downhill walk, riding a bike in wind burns more than on a still day, etc.) In short, it is a complex formula with multiple independent variables to determine how many calories are burned in some unit time. And so minutes to burn the food energy is wildly variable and not directly comparable between people. OTOH, notwithstanding item #2 calories are calories and so the same for everyone, plus, for the most part, measuring calories can be subject to a consistent scientific protocol that food suppliers can implement. So let’s stick with as objective a value as possible (while maintaining some simplicity that doesn’t take a PhD in biochemistry to understand).
  2. As the nutrition nuts, as usual, are being unscientific again (meaning they have no science to support their “opinions”, which is exactly what they are) about the calories are different based on lots of other variables (how the food is prepared, rate of absorption, etc.). So in item #1 they want to ignore all the complexity of measured calories burned by exercise but in this item they want to add all sorts of complexity to defining calories (which, btw, would then be inconsistent with item #1, since if you don’t really know the calorie value of a particular food due to complexity then how would you know exercise required to burn the unknown number of calories even if measuring exercise were simple). The silliest mistake they always make is that somehow changing the rate of calorie uptake makes a difference. Yes, if you’re actually diabetic and worried about spikes in blood glucose, rate matters, but otherwise, whether you absorb the calories in 10 minutes or 5 five hours, the amount is the same (with small possible exception of intestinal flora consuming some of the calories, but where is their proof about that, show me a study that involved measuring, in real-time, what is happening inside people’s small intestines). And food prep making a difference – yes, cooking meat to burned to a crisp well-down will reduce fat vs the tastier medium rare, but fast food places cook by formula and timer (with some obvious variability due to the unskilled and often zoned-out workers). But all these supposed source of variability, while slightly plausible, can mostly be averaged out by reasonable statistical practice. Any signal dimensional measure is less accurate than more complex statistical (hey, let’s put standard deviation on the menu too) but make it too complex and people will really ignore it.

So in this case you simply can’t make the nannies happy. So they act like the old cliche of the-drunk-searching-where-the-light-is. For the most part the public isn’t listening to them (perhaps if they’d just have a scientifically accurate story and stick to it, instead of the latest fads, plus stop peddling unedible foods like kale and quinoa as miracles (and stop pushing political agendas like vegan) maybe the public would listen to more sensible information). But they can’t browbeat the public (they try and it backfires, maybe some moderation and practicality in their nutrition message would help, not to mention actually telling the truth, not politically correct attitude). So they browbeat McDonalds, because they’re a big target and easy to attack. So let’s never be satisfied.

I’m quite happy with the information McDonalds now puts out and I salute them for it, as well as some of their new menu items. While fast food does love to put out high calorie meals, they’re mostly doing it to meet customer demand (think about it a minute, food costs money and more food cuts profit margins, if McDonalds could get away selling a 1/8th pounder, for the same (or nearly the same price), and charging for condiments, you don’t think some green eyeshade pencil-pusher hasn’t thought of that as a way to increase margins). McDonalds isn’t in the business of giving away excess food when they optimize every penny they can save but cost cutting. So the idea of the fast food people tricking us dumb consumers with clever marketing just doesn’t fly. Any moron consumer that doesn’t know a large drink contains more calories than a smaller one is the product of our terrible education system, not McDonalds’ trickery.

But nutrition nannies know the public won’t listen to them (yet don’t realize scolding and being holier-than-thou is not a very persuasive rhetorical style) so they badger who they can with half-baked ideas, scientifically incorrect and even self-inconsistent.

Nannies, get your message right before you open your mouths and display your ignorance and your biases.



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About dmill96

old fat (but now getting trim and fit) guy, who used to create software in Silicon Valley (almost before it was called that), who used to go backpacking and bicycling and cross-country skiing and now geodashes, drives AWD in Wyoming, takes pictures, and writes long blog posts and does xizquvjyk.
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