From Where I Sit – Give Us the Numbers

Most lifestyle television programs have a regular health and nutrition segment with guest experts?dieticians, naturopaths, doctors, nutritionists, cookbook authors, and consumer advocates. Depending on their particular skill sets and biases, they try to bring us old information in a new way or even announce a new truth.

In this world full of noise and short attention spans, the presentations always seem to include visuals: charts, diagrams, graphics, animations, and objects. But never underestimate the effectiveness of shock value. Gasps from the host and audience drive the point home that this is important stuff, so pay attention, dammit!

For me, dramatic visuals work best since the picture in my mind lasts longer than with simple verbiage. So I was curious to see the latest installment of ?Choose It and Lose It? on Cityline.

Health expert Rose Reisman tackled the summertime minefield of smoothies and shakes. She chose four retailers to focus on: Wendy?s, Coldstone Creamery, Second Cup, and Baskin Robbins. Not only did she compare two similar items from each restaurant’s menu, but she also provided visual proof of just how bad one of the choices in each set was.

In one example she compared a Wendy’s large Caramel Frosty Shake to their large Vanilla Frosty. The former had 1,000 calories and 155 grams of sugar (versus 507 calories and 81 grams of sugar in the latter). That doesn’t sound great to start with. But just how much is 155 grams of sugar? Reisman whipped open a box holding a dozen Tim Horton’s donuts: the sugar equivalent of one shake.

And so the demonstration went. Scary-high numbers of calories and sugar, accompanied by visual cues for shock value comparisons. Is it any wonder so many of us are overweight? Especially dangerous is drinking our calories, because it takes no time at all to down the beverage. It would take a mite longer to eat the dozen donuts.

The encouraging bit of news is that there is usually a healthier choice right there on the menu. What drives me crazy is that it takes real work to get the information necessary to make the better decision. In some US restaurants the calorie count is right there in black and white on the menu or menu board.

If regulators are insisting on all sorts of compliance with packaging, signage, ingredients, and inspections, then why not ask for this one more thing? Sure, I can (and do) look at the calorie count of my salad on the McDonalds’s tray liner or the wall sign at Wendy?s, but how many others do? What about the numbers at the steak house or high-end restaurants?

Make it easier for us to do the right thing! Give us the numbers, from where I sit.

Hazel Anaka’s first novel is Lucky Dog. Visit her website for more information or follow her on Twitter @anakawrites.

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