September 3, 2014

Calorie Info on Menus Doesn’t Improve Consumer Choices

Cheeseburger and soda drinkIn the battle against the bulge, it seems that more information isn’t necessarily better. A new study from Carnegie Mellon University found that calorie intake information on restaurant menus doesn’t help consumers use that info to make better choices.

Julie Downs, the study’s lead author, said, “there have been high hopes that menu labeling could be a key tool to help combat high obesity levels in this country, and many people do appreciate having that information available. Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t appear to be helping to reduce consumption very much, even when we give consumers what policymakers thought might help: some guidance for how many calories they should be eating.”

In the study, purchase behaviors of 1,121 adult lunchtime diners at two McDonald’s restaurants in New York City were analyzed. The diners were divided into three groups and given this information: one group received the recommended daily calorie intake, the second recommended pre-meal calorie intake, and the third no information. Results showed no interaction between the use of calorie recommendations and the pre-existing menu labels, suggesting that “incorporating calorie recommendations did not help customers make better use of the information provided on calorie-labeled menus.”

But Downs thinks that making that information available on menus could help consumers in other ways, such as motivating restaurants to change their formulations to make food healthier. It seems it’s unrealistic to think people keep close track of their food intake by using those labels.

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