Does Labeling Menus with the Calorie Content of Food Choices Have Any Affect on Diners?

English: Oklahoma State University Logo

English: Oklahoma State University Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A team of researchers from the University of Illinois and Oklahoma State University found that numeric calorie labels appear to influence consumers who are less health conscious; but symbolic calorie labels are more effective because they reduced caloric intake across all levels of health consciousness.

The 2010 healthcare bill requires chain restaurants to provide calorie information on all menus using numeric calorie labels. Since no one investigated how effective this type of labeling would be in terms of getting people to make wiser food choices, these researchers decided to test this form of labeling in addition to symbolic calorie labels and no labels at all. The study was conducted in 2010 in a full service restaurant on the Oklahoma State University campus. The restaurant was divided into three sections and diners were randomly assigned to a table in one of the three sections. Their menus:

  • Listed the name, description, and price for each menu item.
  • Diners in the control menu group received no nutritional information.
  • Diners in the calorie-only menu group were given the number of calories in parentheses before each selection’s price.
  • Diners in the calorie+traffic light menu group were given a green, yellow, or red traffic light symbol in addition to the number of calories before each selection’s price.. Green light options had 400 calories or less, yellow light options had between 401 and 800 calories, and red light options had more than 800 calories.

After their meal, the diners were given a written questionnaire. with 15 questions  about:

  • Demographic information
  • Levels of health consciousness
  • Frequency of and reasons for dining at the restaurant
  • Method of item selection (was selection based on taste, price, healthfulness, etc.)
  • Menu label preference

Even though the calorie+traffic light label was more effective at reducing calories ordered, it was not the preferred labeling format. Forty-two percent of the diners preferred the calorie-only label which had no influence on calories ordered. “These responses imply diners may want more information on their menus (the number of calories) but do not want to be told what they should or should not consume.”

 

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~ by chasm63 on February 18, 2013.

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