ON MY WAY into work, I usually hit the McDonald's drive-through for breakfast. My typical order: two sausage burritos and a large Diet Coke (no ice). The menu board informs me that each burrito contains 300 calories. That's 50 more than an egg white sandwich but 300 fewer than a bacon, egg, and cheese bagel.
McDonald's started posting calorie counts on all its menus in September 2012. The move was partially a response to a proposed 2011 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rule affecting chain restaurants and large vending machine operators. Under the rule, calories must be displayed on all menus and menu boards, while other nutritional information--including calories from fat, cholesterol, sugars, and protein--must be made available in writing upon request.
The regulation, finalized in 2014, was smuggled in with the 2010 Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare. In a paternalistic effort to fight obesity by making people more aware of the fat and sugar content of the food they consume, that law called for a national standard to preempt the patchwork of state laws already on the books.
It should go without saying that the proper role of government does not include telling people what to eat. But even if the government did have a right to interfere in people's nutritional choices, it wouldn't be necessary. When Obamacare passed, there was already a perceptible and growing demand from consumers themselves for more nutritional information and healthier food options.
In 2010, Self magazine launched NutritionData.com, which analyzes food labels and estimates calories in specific food from its very large database and recipes. Within a year it was recording more than 1 million unique visitors per month, according to the magazine's digital director, Kristen Dollard. But the site's data weren't entirely novel. At least 14 large restaurant chains, including Taco Bell, Dairy Queen, and McDonald's, were already providing nutritional calculators on their websites.
In fact, McDonald's began offering nutritional information more than three years before the FDA rule was finalized, when it recognized that "customers want to know more about the nutrition content of the food and beverages they order." The chain also trained some 750,000 of its employees in matters of nutrition and details of the company's menu so they would be able to answer questions from customers, and it created an app allowing customers to access nutritional information wherever...