Today’s Wall Street Journal reported that “Calorie Disclosures Fail to Weigh Whole Enchilada” siting that many food items that were tested for actual calorie counts came in higher than what was recorded on the menu for consumers. For example, they reported that Applebee’s Cajun lime tilapia tested at 401 calories, but the menu only showed 310 calories. Taco Bell’s fresco bean burrito tested at 449 calories but the menu only showed 330 calories. There were other examples.
You know what is interesting? Non of the tests reported showed actual test results that were LOWER in calories than the calories shown on the menu.
Now, this could mean several things: 1) The WSJ is showing a bias in its reporting and only reporting on data that supports its story or 2) the restaurants are gaming the system by sending in smaller portion sizes for testing or 3) the restaurants are choosing to report lower numbers on their menus than what the testing results show or 4) the study is not scientific and the sample size and method of sampling is inaccurate – not reflecting the true story.
Numbers are only numbers and it is hard to draw a conclusion without accurate and complete information. These examples came from a very small sampling, chosen by Scripps television stations, sent to testing labs for analysis. The WSJ reported that Scripps sent “several” menu items and that “big deviations” from posted calorie content were found in “most of them” making menu items appear healthier than they are.
For us as the consumer, to be able to trust the numbers we need to know if they are “fair”. Having taken a statistics course many years ago (although I admit I’ve forgotten most of what I’ve learned), I do remember that the sample size is important and that it must be randomly selected. From the information given in the WSJ article, I don’t think we can draw any conclusions from their tests — in other words, we can’t say, with confidence, that the majority of restaurants are misreporting their calorie contents. We just don’t have enough information.
Another unlikely scenario is there being a conspiracy among the majority of restauranteurs to misreport their calorie contents. I personally believe that people are honest and yes, there are people behind big business. It is hard to get a group to do anything consistently and to think that the majority of restaurants misreport does not seem likely to me.
The bottom line: don’t believe everything you read. Consider the source and the motivation behind why they are reporting what they do. Use a little critical thinking and come to your own conclusions. Discount the results if they don’t hold up.