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Crunching the Numbers: Does Calorie Labelling at Restaurants Help?

>> Sunday, January 17, 2010

In an effort to enable us to know what we are putting in our mouths when we're eating out, there is a continent-wide push for better nutritional labelling at restaurants and fast food chains. New York City is a leader in this department - a mandatory posting law for chain restaurants went into effect last year.

The results of this labelling has had mixed results so far. There are at least three studies that have looked at this issue:

1. New York University researchers looked at purchases made by adults at fast food restaurants two weeks before, and one month after, the mandatory labelling went into effect. While over half of people entering the restaurants noticed the calorie information, only 13% said that it made them purchase less calories, and in fact there were no significant differences in the mean number of calories individuals purchased.

2. A study from Yale University published in the American Journal of Public Health found that when calorie information on a menu was provided along with reference values showing the recommended daily intake for the average adult, calorie consumption decreased by about 250 calories. Repeated twice a week, this calorie savings translates into 7.5 pounds less weight gain per year!

3. Stanford University researchers examined purchases at Starbucks in New York City after calorie count displays were mandated, and found that calorie posting did in fact decrease the number of calories per transaction at Starbucks by 6 percent! Revenue increased at Starbucks that were located in close proximity to Dunkin' Donuts restaurants in particular, likely because the knowledge of the high calorie content of donuts drove people away from the donut shop and towards Starbucks instead.

So on balance, it looks like posting caloric information at restaurants is having a positive effect. To understand how many calories you are consuming at restaurants compared to what you need, you can calculate your very own caloric prescrption on this website using the BMR calculator in the right hand column!

Dr. Sue © 2009


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