Debate: Do calorie counts on fast-food menus gives diners pause?

In my book, SuperSized Kids: How to protect your child from the obesity threat, I suggest: “We believe Congress and state or local legislatures should require 2 food-service chains with ten or more units to list the calorie, satu- 3 rated and trans fat (combined), and sodium contents of standard 3 menu items. Where space is limited, restaurants that use menu 3 boards should be required to provide at least calorie information 3 next to each item on their boards.”

I also write, “We also believe that labeling should be required for foods and bever- ages sold “to go” at food retailers such as cookie counters in shopping malls, vending machines, drive-through windows, and convenience stores. Further, nutrition information should be required to be listed as prominently as price and other key menu information. The Insti- tute of Medicine joins us in urging restaurants to provide calorie con- tent and other nutrition information.”

Now, there is some data backing my recommendation.

WASHINGTON — People who used the calorie information available at fast-food chain restaurants in New York City bought 106 fewer calories’ worth of food at lunch than those who didn’t see or use the information, a study shows.
Researchers at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene set out to analyze the impact of the city’s menu labeling law, which went into effect in March 2008 and required chain restaurants to post calories on menu boards.
The researchers surveyed more than 10,000 diners at 275 locations of the top fast-food and coffee-chain restaurants in the spring of 2007, and then more than 12,000 people again this spring. Customers disclosed their register receipts and completed brief questionnaires.
Among the findings reported here Monday at the annual meeting of the Obesity Society, a group of weight-loss researchers and professionals:
•15% of customers say they used the calorie information at lunch; 56% say they saw it.
•Those who used the information purchased an average of 754 calories’ worth of food at lunch in 2009; those who didn’t see or use the information bought 860 calories’ worth of food.
•Those who saw and used the information consumed 152 fewer calories at hamburger chains and 73 fewer calories at sandwich chains compared with everyone else.
•At coffee shops, total calories purchased dropped from 260 in 2007 to 237 calories in 2009.
•The overall calories purchased decreased at nine chains between 2007 and 2009, including dropping significantly at McDonald’s, Au Bon Pain, KFC and Starbucks.
•The calories from foods purchased at Subway increased significantly, possibly because diners were purchasing a special deal on 12-inch sandwiches.
“A growing number of consumers are using this information and making lower-calorie purchases,” says Lynn Silver, assistant commissioner of NYC’s Bureau of Chronic Disease Prevention and Control. “We know that behavior changes take time. We hope consumers increasingly use this information to make healthier choices and that companies will offer more healthful choices and more appropriate portion sizes.”
The research was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and New York City.
Study finds New York’s calorie labeling law may have little impact on caloric content of meals.
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/03/health/03nutrition.html?scp=1&sq=%2bobesity&st=nyt
The New York Times (11/3, D7, Rabin) reports that a group of independent researchers have determined that New York City’s calorie labeling law “had had absolutely no effect on the caloric content of meals bought at chain restaurants in poor neighborhoods.” The findings follow an assessment delivered last week by city health officials who found that New Yorkers “ordered fewer calories at four chains — Au Bon Pain, KFC, McDonald’s and Starbucks — after the law went into effect last year.” The Times says that while the results of the two studies “appear to contradict one another, researchers said differences in focus and size might explain the discrepancies.” While the initial study “assessed the effect of calorie labeling only in low-income, minority neighborhoods,” the larger one focused on the citywide effect.

According to a report in the USA Today, people who used the calorie information available at fast-food chain restaurants in New York City bought 106 fewer calories’ worth of food at lunch than those who didn’t see or use the information, a study shows.

Researchers at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene set out to analyze the impact of the city’s menu labeling law, which went into effect in March 2008 and required chain restaurants to post calories on menu boards.

The researchers surveyed more than 10,000 diners at 275 locations of the top fast-food and coffee-chain restaurants in the spring of 2007, and then more than 12,000 people again this spring. Customers disclosed their register receipts and completed brief questionnaires.

Among the findings reported here Monday at the annual meeting of the Obesity Society, a group of weight-loss researchers and professionals:

  • 15% of customers say they used the calorie information at lunch; 56% say they saw it.
  • Those who used the information purchased an average of 754 calories’ worth of food at lunch in 2009; those who didn’t see or use the information bought 860 calories’ worth of food.
  • Those who saw and used the information consumed 152 fewer calories at hamburger chains and 73 fewer calories at sandwich chains compared with everyone else.
  • At coffee shops, total calories purchased dropped from 260 in 2007 to 237 calories in 2009.
  • The overall calories purchased decreased at nine chains between 2007 and 2009, including dropping significantly at McDonald’s, Au Bon Pain, KFC and Starbucks.
  • The calories from foods purchased at Subway increased significantly, possibly because diners were purchasing a special deal on 12-inch sandwiches.

“A growing number of consumers are using this information and making lower-calorie purchases,” says Lynn Silver, assistant commissioner of NYC’s Bureau of Chronic Disease Prevention and Control. “We know that behavior changes take time. We hope consumers increasingly use this information to make healthier choices and that companies will offer more healthful choices and more appropriate portion sizes.”

This research was funded by the very reputable Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and New York City.

However, there is conflicting data. Another study now concludes the opposite, that “New York’s calorie labeling law may have little impact on caloric content of meals.”

The New York Times is reporting that a group of independent researchers have determined that New York City’s calorie labeling law “had had absolutely no effect on the caloric content of meals bought at chain restaurants in poor neighborhoods.”

The findings follow an assessment delivered last week by city health officials who found that New Yorkers “ordered fewer calories at four chains — Au Bon Pain, KFC, McDonald’s and Starbucks — after the law went into effect last year.”

The Times says that while the results of the two studies “appear to contradict one another, researchers said differences in focus and size might explain the discrepancies.”

While the initial study “assessed the effect of calorie labeling only in low-income, minority neighborhoods,” the larger one focused on the citywide effect.

So, stay tuned. The jury is still out on this one.

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