Should All Menus Have Calorie Counts?

Researchers have found that calorie counts on menus may fight the obesity epidemic.

A new study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that calorie counts on menus are helping customers order less caloric food. Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) implemented a law requiring restaurants and grocery stores with 20 or more locations to publically display calorie counts on standard menu items. These efforts were enforced in hopes of tackling America’s obesity crisis, and the rules seem to be working.

Researchers from Cornell University randomly assigned 5,550 diners to two full-service restaurants. The diners were sent to either a treatment group, which received a menu with calorie counts on each menu item or a control group, which received normal non-caloric included menus. After their meals, the diners completed a survey and researchers reported that the diners who received the menus with caloric counts ordered meals with three percent fewer calories, which equates to approximately 45 fewer calories. Lisa Diewald, Program Manager of MacDonald Center for Obesity Prevention and Education at Villanova, reports to Healthline, “These calorie savings, while small, are cumulative, potentially resulting in a few lost pounds each year for some, or at least a flattening of the weight gain trajectory.” Diewald also emphasizes the importance of heightened awareness and knowledge in making behavioral changes. The readily available nutritional information on menus provides a clear reference for consumers to know what and how much they’re eating, which aids in making healthier choices.

It has also been proven that the vast majority of diners want to know what they’re eating. There’s no real downside for restaurants from sharing the calorie count. The study found that their revenue, profits, and labor remained the same. Following the experiment, the support for knowing calorie counts increased by approximately 10 percent. Diners are affected by the calorie numbers and seem to be encouraged to choose the lower calorie option. Calorie counts serve as a large piece in the fight against the obesity epidemic and hopefully will expand further into restaurants and consumers’ minds. 

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