Displaying Calories in Food Menus Doesn’t Make People Eat Healthier, Study Shows

calories in food

Displaying the calories in food on menus does not have a huge effect on how consumers choose their meals, a new study found. The study found that as few as eight percent of fast-food eaters make healthier choices based on displayed calorie counts.

The study analyzed survey responses of about 1,400 people in Philadelphia, approximately half of whom were interviewed at 15 fast-food restaurants; the rest were interviewed over the phone. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed in restaurants and one-third of phone participants reported not noticing nutritional postings on menus.

“The success of such a calorie-labeling campaign (…) requires that target consumers simultaneously see the calorie labels, are motivated to eat healthfully, and understand how many calories they should be eating,” study author Andrew Breck, a doctoral candidate at NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service in New York City, told UPI.

The study suggests that the display of calorie and other nutrition information must be clearer and larger in order to reach regular fast food consumers.

“We are hopeful that highly visible posting of calorie content on menus may also cause some restaurants to add new, more healthful options to their menus,” Breck said.

Another issue with the current way of displaying this information appeared to be that about half of the survey participants did not know the number of calories they should be consuming in a day; Breck suggests that this information should be included in addition to providing information about the calories in food.

Beginning in May 2017, all United States chain restaurants with 20 or more locations will be required to post the calories in food on their menus and menu boards as part of the Affordable Care Act.

Some cities and states have already implemented calorie display regulations locally, such as New York, where the first law to this effect was enacted in 2008, California in 2009, and Philadelphia in 2010.

About 38 percent of adults and 17 percent of teenagers are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Emily Monaco is a food and culture writer based in Paris. Her work has been featured in the Wall... More about Emily Monaco