Saturday, May 11, 2013

Menu Misinterpretation?

            If you knew it would take two hours of intensive walking to burn off that dessert tempting you at dinnertime, would you still choose it?  That’s the question brought up in an article by that looks into a new study that finds that restaurant guests who look at menus that show them an estimate of how much exercise is needed to burn off calories tend to choose lower-calorie options.  Sounds like a great idea, but where is all this information really coming from, and is there enough evidence to back it up?
            The article’s general target audience seems to be individuals that dine out somewhat frequently,
“Registered dietician Leslie Beck finds the study results interesting, “I guess what this suggests is that if you eat out in restaurants on a regular basis…”

I believe the motive was to make those people who dine out at restaurants frequently to believe as though they need these calories put into context, leading to them being healthier.  If the food and restaurant industry get a demand of consumers who feel as though this is going to benefit them, or even get government health officials involved, more restaurants might be willing to add that information to their menus. 
But this also brings up the conflict of an additional activity system, the restaurants. Restaurant menus are typically written with a mixture of plain and official styles, so how do they feel about journalists, who normally write in the official style, believing that they should change their menus into a plain style so they can be better understood?  And what business is going to voluntarily display anything that discourages someone from buying their product?  It’s a complication and battle between activity systems.  Is the study provided even broad enough to convince enough people that they need this information in their menus?
The article itself admits that this was just one group of people, “We can’t generalize to a population over age 30…”, and they even state that “It’s hard to say why the combination of the calorie and the exercise information made a bigger difference than simply the calorie information”.  So how can this large truth that putting calories into context will make people make better meal decisions be based on only one study, furthermore a study that still needs a lot of work? 
I believe the mixture of plain and official styles is used to try to make this article seem more scholarly and trustworthy, when really it is not very credible information.  For instance, the fact that there was a study done on this topic makes it seem legitimate and official, but then realizing that this entire article is based on that one study mentioned doesn’t make the information seem so believable.  There are other studies briefly mentioned but never in depth,  

“The researchers say that the majority of studies done of the effectiveness on displaying calories on menus show that the menus do not lead to fewer calories ordered or eaten. They say that contextualizing those calories could be an effective strategy to encourage people to eat less.”

Why aren’t any other studies discussed deeper?  This makes me as the reader wonder if there are studies that contradict the one presented in this article, and if maybe the author is trying to keep this information from the reader to prove their point that putting calories into context on menus makes people eat healthier.
Most of the article is written in very plain style, as the majority of the sentences are very short, clear, and to the point.  They appear to be easy to understand, and the main ideas are repeated throughout the article.  There is the use of exemplum,    

“Researchers at Texas Christian University recently conducted a study of 300 men and women under the age of 30. They broke them into three groups, giving each group a menu with the same food choices.  One group received a regular menu; the second received a menu that listed the calories of each food item; the third got a menu that listed the calories as well as the number of minutes of brisk walking needed to burn those calories.  The study found that the people who got the third menu not only tended to order less, they also ate less compared to those who got the menu without calorie labels.  Results of the study were presented this week at the Experimental Biology 2013 meeting in Boston.”

Followed by a very large use of metabasis,   

“The researchers say putting calories into context seemed to have an effect on the people they studied.” 

"This study suggests there are benefits to displaying exercise minutes to a group of young men and women,” senior researcher Dr. Meena Shah said in a statement.

“I guess what this suggests is that if you eat out in restaurants on a regular basis, knowing and seeing that (calorie and exercise) information could help you manage your weight.”

“She says it seems that putting calorie information into a context that most people can relate to – brisk walking – helps to make people think a little harder about their food choices.” 

            Because of the fact that there is not much evidence besides the one study mentioned in the beginning of the article, yet the article keeps repeating the fact that this idea is effective, makes this article quite biased.  Even when things are in the official style, they are quite deceptive and confusing.  They don’t provide any alternative options or suggestions, and they don’t have enough evidence to really prove their point.  Also, they’re often vague as to whom they are speaking about.  For example, in the last paragraph it says, “The researchers say that the majority of studies...” but don’t explain who these “researchers” are.  
            Initially after reading this article, I thought maybe that for most people who don’t know much about plain vs. official style wouldn’t realize how flawed this information was, since there was research provided that seems to agree with their main idea, making it seem official and professional.  But, I read the reader comments, and found that many readers found this articles information to be misleading for many different reasons. 
One reader brought up the fact that putting the calorie intake “into context” was actually confusing, because if for instance the only thing you eat in a day is a 500 calorie muffin, it wouldn’t take two hours of walking to burn it off, because a person can burn around 2000 calories a day from normal activity.  It’s really the calories above and beyond that level that someone has to worry about.  Another reader pointed out that the relationship between calories and exercise is really not that simple.  “People of different weights will burn dramatically different calories doing the same activity.”  So the whole idea of contextualizing calorie information in general seems to be flawed, and many readers wondered if it was really okay to give the public misleading information.  Also, how can an article that uses plain style, infused with the official style to seemingly mislead readers, have the right to tell restaurants that they need to put their calorie information into plain style?      

By: Katie TerBeest 

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