Study Looks at Menu Calorie Labels and Impact on Food Decisions

CLEVELAND – If you feel like you’re seeing more calorie info posted in your favorite restaurant menus – it’s because you are.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently began requiring restaurant chains to list calorie and other nutrition labeling on menu items. 

The calorie-posting rule is aimed at getting Americans to make healthier choices when eating out.

However, a recent study showed that only about half of people in restaurants even notice calorie information when it’s listed in menus.

And when they do, it doesn’t always influence decision-making.

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Susan Albers, PsyD, of Cleveland Clinic said it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by all of the calorie-counting, so it’s best to keep the information in perspective.

“It’s important to remember that this is a tool – its intention is to help to educate; give people more information – but not to use it as a judgment,” she said.  “The hope is that it increases your awareness and you reach out for more education about nutrition.”

Susan Albers, PsyD. said hopefully, having more access to nutrition information will enable people to be more mindful about their food choices, but only time will tell what kind of lasting impact it might have.

Dr. Albers said people are often surprised by how many calories are in restaurant food items. And many times, she said people will only have their decisions swayed by the items that are very high in calories by either looking for a lower-calorie item or opting for a smaller portion.

And while posting nutritional information increases awareness, Dr. Albers said it doesn’t always mean that people will know what to do with this information.

She said hopefully it will get folks to be more mindful about their choices, but that only time will tell what kind of lasting impact it might have.

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“What is likely to happen is that it’s going to open up conversation,” said Dr. Albers. “We’re going to have a lot more awareness and discussion about foods that we’re being served – how we make decisions; why we make those decisions – and how to eat them in a more mindful way.”

Dr. Albers said it’s important to note that research has shown that people who struggle with disordered eating are often negatively impacted by calorie listings.

For those who become overwhelmed or triggered by calorie information, she recommends meeting with a health professional who can help develop a strategy to deal with these new calories labels. 

Complete results of the study can be found in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.