Do Restaurant Calorie Counts Work?

The theory: When we see calorie counts on menus, we'll choose healthier and less fat-filled items.

The reality: It doesn't work that way.

Calorie labeling on menus appears to have very little impact on what we choose to eat. So what if the double cheeseburger has way more calories than the garden salad? That's the word from New York University researchers from the Langone Medical Center, who analyzed fast food purchases in the region and concluded that menu calorie information alone is not enough to lower obesity rates.

The study: Over an 18-month period in 2013 to 2014, the NYU team analyzed food and beverage items purchased by nearly 7,700 people who ate at McDonald's, Burger King, KFC and Wendy's restaurants in New York City and nearby New Jersey cities. Since 2008, chain restaurants in New York City have been required by law to include the calorie counts on their menus. The team compared the 2013-14 data to a similar survey of more than 1,000 fast-food customers that was conducted right after the calorie count policy was enacted in 2008.

The results:

  • Calorie consumption in the 2013-14 survey averaged between 804 and 839 per meal at restaurants with calorie counts and between 802 and 857 per meal at restaurants without calorie counts.

  • In the 2008 survey, calorie consumption averaged 783 per meal at restaurants with calorie counts and 756 per meal at restaurants without calorie counts.

"Our study suggests that menu labeling, in particular at fast-food restaurants, will not on its own lead to any lasting reductions in calories consumed," said lead study author Brian Elbel.

The study findings were published in the journal Health Affairs.

--From the Editors at Netscape

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