By next December, most popular restaurant chains will be required to add calorie counts to their menus—something you may have seen happening already if you frequently eat out. But according to a new study from the NYU School of Medicine, having the information readily available doesn’t mean people will make healthier choices. Still, there may be a surprising upside.
In 2008 the state of New York got a jump on the game and mandated that fast food and chain restaurants provide calorie labels on their menu, but the result has been anything but remarkable. On average, the calorie count per purchase has actually risen slightly since then (by about 26 calories), but perhaps the most encouraging data came from a parallel study conducted by the same team.
The second study focused on the restaurant rather than the consumer, recognizing that many companies started making the change on their own even before the deadline. After looking at more than 60 popular chain restaurants nationwide, researchers discovered that those who voluntarily introduced calorie information on their menus averaged about 120 fewer calories per standard menu items compared with those who didn’t.
Could it be that providing the information was a wake-up call for restaurants? While study co-author Julia Wolfson points out that the data simply show an association between menu labeling and more healthful food options, it is possible those proactive eateries were encouraged to provide more lower-calorie food items. And should the trend continue, Wolfson believes it may help Americans eat healthier in the long run.
Both studies were published in the November issue of the health policy journal Health Affairs.