Menu Calorie Labels Aren’t Perfect, But Can Still Help Fight Obesity

IHOP’s create your own pancake combo with bacon or sausage weighs in at about 1,000 calories per plate. Do you order the decadent dish, which makes up about half of an average adult’s daily calories, or do you stick with the “simple & fit” vegetable omelette at 310 calories?

If you’re like most people, you’re going to go ahead and order the pancakes, probably not even noticing the calorie labels, according to a new study by researchers at New York University School of Medicine. The researchers found that five years after New York City mandated calorie counts on chain restaurant menus, customers are noticing the numbers less and less.

This is important because New York’s policy is going nationwide. By December 2016, all restaurants in the U.S. with more than 20 locations will display calorie counts alongside food on a menu as mandated by the Affordable Care Act. Some companies and local governments have followed New York City’s lead and adopted the policy ahead of the deadline. But two new studies, published in the November issue of the health policy journal Health Affairs, show that the labels are a mixed bag when it comes to encouraging healthy food choices.

The biggest impact from menu labeling could be on the supply side rather than the demand side.
Julia Wolfson, study author

According to the NYU study, surveys conducted at fast food restaurants in New York revealed that awareness about the labels dropped from 51 percent when first introduced in 2008, down to a range of 37 to 45 percent during 2013 and 2014.

And five years with menu labels didn’t seem to make a difference in purchasing, either. There was no statistically significant difference in the number of calories in the food consumers purchased from the —> Read More