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In empty gesture for health, NYC requires labeling for high-salt foods

In this undated image released by the New York City Health Department, shows a graphic that will soon be warning NYC consumers of high salt content. (Antonio D'Angelo/New York City Health Department via AP)

In this undated image released by the New York City Health Department, shows a graphic that will soon be warning NYC consumers of high salt content. (Antonio D’Angelo/New York City Health Department via AP)

On Wednesday, New York City passed a law for compulsory salt labeling at chain restaurants, but previous attempts at better health through food labeling make it doubtful that customers will be healthier.

Any restaurant chain that has more than 15 locations nationwide must add a label for high-sodium foods, according to Buzzfeed. The law will affect about one-third of restaurant traffic in the city.

This addition for salt labeling follows the 2008 law that required calorie counts.

“I hope that New York City’s move will spur restaurants to voluntarily lower sodium levels nationally and embolden public health authorities around the country to require sodium warnings on menus,” Michael F. Jacobson, president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said in a statement.

Jacobson’s hope, however, ignores a crucial problem with the salt labeling.

Even with clear labeling about the caloric count of food in restaurants, customers did not change their behavior. Those in favor of new salt labeling lack evidence that salt intake will change just because it’s clear how much salt is in their food.

Emily Oster notes in FiveThirtyEight that, for calorie labeling, “The fact that people do not know the calorie contents of their food could just be because they don’t care. And that people who do pay attention to calories eat fewer of them is hardly evidence that forcing this information on everyone will change average behavior.”

It might seem silly to oppose more information about the food customers purchase, but previous laws haven’t notably improved health outcomes. If laws can’t accomplish their purpose, they shouldn’t be passed.

Government initiatives don’t have strong records of improving public health. Good intentions from regulators and city councils don’t justify bad laws.


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