01/17/2011 | Mark Huffman
The assumption is that, if consumers have access to calorie and nutrition information on fast food menus, it will change their consumption habits. In the Seattle area, researchers say it hasn’t. At least not yet.
As part of a comprehensive effort to stem the rise in obesity, King county, Washington, which includes Seattle and environs, imposed a mandatory menu labeling regulation on all restaurant chains with 15 or more locations beginning in January 2009. Restaurants had to disclose calorie information at the point of purchase.
Researchers from Duke-National University of Singapore (NUS) Graduate Medical School and the public health department of Seattle & King County found, in the 13 months after the legislation went into effect, food-purchasing behavior at the Taco Time locations in King County was identical to that in Taco Time locations where menu boards remained unchanged.
The total number of sales and average calories per transaction were unaffected by the menu labeling.
Surprised by results
“Given the results of prior studies, we had expected the results to be small, but we were surprised that we could not detect even the slightest hint of changes in purchasing behavior as a result of the legislation,” said lead author Eric Finkelstein, Ph.D., associate professor of health services at Duke-NUS. “The results suggest that mandatory menu labeling, unless combined with other interventions, may be unlikely to significantly influence the obesity epidemic.”
Several other metropolitan areas have adopted similar calorie-posting requirements, including New York City. Eighty-two percent of those surveyed in New York City after its calorie-labeling rule went into effect said seeing calories on menus affected their choices, but no research has been published on the subject.