Does calorie information on restaurant menus cause people to eat better? Show Notes

Monday, July 29, 2013 Host(s): Dr. Bill Maier
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When you order food at a restaurant, would you make different choices if there was calorie info on the menu? The answer might surprise you.

HealthDay is reporting a new study done by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. It found that making general calorie consumption guidelines available to restaurant customers doesn’t change their eating habits. 

As you may know, a number of cities and states are now mandating that chain restaurants post calorie info on menus or menu boards. But some government types think that’s not enough—they believe restaurants should also post guidelines for daily calorie intake—or even how many calories we should consume per meal.

Researcher Dr. Julie Downs decided to test that theory, and she says “We found it didn’t help at all.”  

Currently, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Seattle – as well as the entire states of California and Oregon require calorie labeling. And soon we may see that across the country, as part of the federal health care reform act. 

The study found that providing calorie guidance did NOT seem to help consumers make better use of calorie labeling. It also failed to prompt a drop in the total number of calories informed patrons purchased.

Instead, those who received daily or per-meal calorie guidance chose to eat slightly more calories, not fewer.

Dr. Downs speculates that people see the calorie recommendations and compare them to the number of calories in a given item. The number of calories in the one item seems low, so they actually get a bigger dish and add side items to it. As a result, they go over the recommended guidelines for one meal. 

For more on healthy food consumption guidelines, visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website at usda.gov.

I’m Bill Maier for WBCL.

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