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Do calorie postings influence food choices?


In an effort to help consumers make better nutritional choices, states have implemented mandatory labeling standards for fast-food chains and restaurants – requiring them to reveal calorie and nutritional information about their meals.

But do these labels really influence purchasing habits? Are Americans making better choices because of them?

A recent study from researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center found that the answer is a resounding "no."

"What we're seeing is that many consumers, particularly vulnerable groups, do not report noticing calorie labeling information and even fewer report using labeling to purchase fewer calories," said lead study author Dr. Brian Elbel, assistant professor of Population Health and Health Policy at NYU School of Medicine.

Government issues mandatory labeling

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act mandates that restaurant chains with 20 or more national locations must reveal the calorie content of all food and drink items on the menu. But what early research shows is that this tactic may not be effective in preventing obesity or educating consumers about nutritional choices.

"Studies have not generally examined whether labeling is more or less effective for particular subgroups," Elbel said.

The researchers from NYU found that only 34 percent of McDonald's customers in Philadelphia, for instance, even noticed the labels posted to menu boards. Respondents with less education were also less likely to notice the labels. Worse yet, respondents reported eating fast food more than five times a week, even after the labels were posted. In Philadelphia, there was no decrease in fast food visits after the labeling began, the study found.

Calorie labels are 'not enough'

"We found no difference in calories purchased or fast-food visits after the introduction of the policy," Elbel said.

Posting calories is not enough, Elbel continued. At least not to change behaviors that appear to be deeply ingrained in our "fast food culture."

"We need to consider other, more robust interventional policies in places where obesity is most prevalent."

Source: NYU Langone Medical Center