Truth in Numbers? Think Again.


Calories on any label, including those on restaurant menus, can be deceptive. (Trounce/ Wikimedia Commons)


Calories on any label, including those on restaurant menus, can be deceptive. (Trounce/ Wikimedia Commons)
Calories on any label, including those on restaurant menus, can be deceptive. (Trounce/ Wikimedia Commons)

Since 2008, calorie counts have been mandatory on menus in New York City restaurants and eateries. However, a recent feature in The New York Times confirmed with the Health Department that the caloric values posted in these restaurants are not verified or tested for correctness. That means that you could be tracking and planning for one number of calories per day, but in actuality, may be ingesting many more.

If food providers aren’t being accurate in their calorie count posts, then consumers can’t make proper decisions for themselves on what to eat to be healthy. There needs to be a higher standard and a more efficient way to ensure that what we are putting in our bodies are actually the same as what the advertisements suggest the nutritional information is.

In “The Calorie Detective” video in the Times, filmmaker Casey Neistat conducted an experiment with specialists from St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital.  He found that in an average day he would have eaten over 500 more calories than he was accounting for when he grabbed food on the go, even though he was keeping track of the numbers throughout the day.

Though the posting of nutritional values does not count towards a food establishment’s inspection score, fines and more frequent inspections are supposed to be enforced if there is failure to post the calorie content on menus and food labels as stated in NYC health code 81.50. These fines can range anywhere from $200-$2,700 depending on the number of offenses the establishment is guilty of. Despite these penalties, restaurants continue to violate health codes with impunity.

Imagine if food labels on the foods you bought in the grocery store were wrong, too. You could have every intention of being healthy and be proactive in doing so but still be putting excess calories and loads of garbage into your stomach at the end of the day. This is exactly what happens every time you trust a nutritional posting on a menu when you buy your morning Starbucks, your pre-made salad and your Subway sandwich. We don’t question this enough because we trust that in posting the nutritional information, the establishment has the customer’s best interest (and health) in mind. But with restaurants falsely advertising the contents of their food items, we don’t know what we can trust. What’s the point of posting this information if it’s just going to be wrong?

We’ve all heard about how weight problems are extremely relevant in our country today, and how there is an obesity epidemic in the nation. But did you realize that, as reported by the Center for Disease Control, nearly 70 percent of adults in the United States are either overweight or obese? Or that one-third of children born in 2000 will develop diabetes? If trends remain the same, obesity related health care is expected to be somewhere over $300 billion within five years, nearly double the $147 billion obesity related health care bills reported in 2008.

As busy students running through New York City, we need healthier options to keep us going and we deserve to have nutritional information available to us—especially as people who don’t always have the time to prepare a healthier, home cooked meal. There is a fixation on weight in this country, but we as consumers cannot take on all of the blame when we are eating foods that are falsely advertised as being healthy. We can track calories all we want, but putting a “200-calorie” sticker on a brownie smothered in ice cream is not going to magically make the dessert have 200 calories just as Chipotle’s calorie count for a burrito is 1000 calories when it actually contains 1600 calories. If I make the choice to eat the extra calories, that’s one thing. But it should at least be my educated choice, not one I’m making from a lie posted on a menu.