The PJ Tatler

How Much in 'Lost Pleasure' Will the FDA Calorie-Count Mandate Cost You?

The answer is $5.27 billion in “lost pleasure” from brownies, chocolate cake, macaroni and cheese, pizza and whatever else your heart and stomach desire.

According to a new study released by U.S. health regulators, the psychological impact of seeing the calorie count of your preferred meal on the menu at a restaurant carries a large cost. The estimate of $5.27B is the dollar amount of pleasure you won’t experience from delicious comfort-food meals over the course of 20 years.

The lost-pleasure analysis, which is criticized by some leading economists and public health groups, was tucked into new regulations published last month by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration which require chain restaurants, grocery store chains selling prepared food, large vending machine operators, movie theaters and amusement parks to display calorie counts.

Last month, the nanny-state Food and Drug Administration released more mandates for businesses selling prepared food, requiring the calorie count to be “clearly and conspicuously” present on menus and food items.

The study is not without controversy. Critics say including the “lost pleasure” analysis “makes such regulations vulnerable” to challenges by the industry. Clearly, the industry is not happy about the mandate, as some of that $5.27B is going to be lost from businesses who won’t be selling as many desserts.

The FDA said the analysis balances the benefits to consumers when calorie information leads them to eat healthier with the sense of deprivation people may feel when they give up foods they enjoy. The new rule takes effect in a year.

“It increases the quality and objectivity of the analysis of estimated benefits,” said FDA spokeswoman Jennifer Corbett Dooren.

The FDA projects people will be seeing a net benefit of 10 cents a day from the new requirements.

If this “lost pleasure” analysis sounds odd to you, here is how Reuters explains it:

Their work is based on a concept called “consumer surplus” long employed by economists to calculate benefits people get from various goods and services which may not be fully captured by market prices. For example, if a government turned a playground into an industrial park, or banned pizza, the pleasure people lose from not having the park or eating a slice counts as a “cost” of the action.

Of course, this kind of analysis doesn’t take into account situations where a consumer actually gets more pleasure from eating an apple rather than a brownie.

In any case, this is just another consequence of the government regulating mundane aspects of people’s lives “for their own good.” The National Grocers Association plans to push back on the new calorie-count mandate by working with its supporters in Congress.  Let’s hope they are successful.