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Does Recommended Calorie Information on Menus Actually Improve Consumer Choices?

Recommended Calorie Information–Carnegie Mellon study says NO!

More and more menus and food packaging start to label calories of foods, but does the calorie information really help people make healthy choices on foods?

Recently, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University provided diners with recommended calorie intake information along with the menu items to investigate if the calorie information would improve their food choices. The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, suggests that recommended calorie intake information didn’t help consumers use the menu labeling in a more effective way.

 “People have been high hopes that menu labeling can be an essential tool to combat high obesity levels in the states, and of course, many consumers do appreciate having those information available. However, this approach does not seem to be helping to reduce consumption significantly, even when we provide consumers with what policymakers though might help: some guidance for how many calories consumers should be eating,” said Julie Downs, the lead author of the study and associate research professor of social and decision sciences in CMU’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Downs and colleagues analyzed the purchase behaviors of 1,121 adult lunchtime diners at two New York McDonald’s restaurants. In order to explore the potential correlation between pre-existing menu labeling and the additional recommended calorie intake information, they gave three groups of participants different information: (1) recommended daily calorie intake; (2) recommended per-meal calorie intake; and (3) no additional calorie information. The researchers also gathered data on the diners’ understanding of calorie consumption.

The results showed that there was no interaction between the using of calorie recommendations and the pre-existing menu labels, suggesting that introducing calorie recommendations didn’t help consumers take better advantage of the information provided on calorie-labeled menus. Moreover, giving calorie recommendations, either calories per-meal or per-day, didn’t show reduction in the number of total calorie purchased.

 “People who count calories understand that it’s a pretty labor-intensive work,” said Downs. “Providing the information on menus might have other benefits such as motivating restaurants to change their formulations. Yet, it might be unrealistic to expect consumers to keep such close, numeric track of food intake by directly using the labels.”

Source: EurekAlert!
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