Fast Food Calorie Labels May Not Improve Eating Habits

DECEMBER 18, 2013
Labeling calories on fast food restaurant menus may not discourage Americans from consuming higher-calorie items, a new study finds.

The study, published in the November 2013 issue of Obesity, evaluated a city-mandated policy implemented in Philadelphia, PA, requiring fast food restaurants to post calorie content of all food items on their menu board or printed menu. The researchers surveyed fast food chain consumers aged 18 to 64 years in person and via telephone before and after the policy was implemented and asked what customers had ordered, how often they had visited “big chain” fast food restaurants in the past week, whether they had noticed the calorie labels, and if so, whether they used the information to order more or fewer calories than they normally ordered. Customer receipts were collected and used to confirm answers. Answers from both surveys were compared with the results of the same surveys conducted in Baltimore, MD, where a labeling policy was not implemented.

Consumers surveyed after the policy went into effect were significantly more likely to notice calorie information than those surveyed before the policy and those surveyed in Baltimore. Overall, 10% of Philadelphia participants reported using calorie information to purchase fewer calories. However, no significant differences were observed in the frequency of visits or in the total number of calories purchased before and after the policy was implemented and between both cities.

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