By Scott Michelman, Attorney, Public Citizen
A thought-provoking op-ed in The Hill argues that a perspective is missing from the debate about whether government regulation and informed consumer choice is the more appropriate means of addressing public health issues such as obesity. The problem with the debate is the uncritical acceptance of the premise that consumers are being effectively informed. The author suggests that the problem with consumer choice isn’t that consumers are lazy or foolish, but the failure of government regulation — not regulation of consumer behavior but of the information consumers are provided about what they buy.
The piece describes one example in detail: the flaws in nutrition labeling.
Studies evaluating the nutrition label reveal that it is poorly designed. Proper use of the nutrition label requires considerable nutrition knowledge and extensive mental effort at the time of purchase, which time-pressed consumers at the grocery store do not have. In many cases, consumers do not use the nutrition label because they find it difficult to understand and use in purchasing decisions. Moreover, the label does not account for the difficulties that less-educated or elderly consumers could have interpreting the label. The label is essentially designed by the health experts for the health experts and therefore fails most consumers.
Read the rest of “Blaming consumers for government failures” here.