Fast-food calorie labels don’t often prompt healthy eating

By Doug Bennett • Published: January 5th, 2017
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

If you use calorie information to make healthier choices at fast-food restaurants, you’re in the minority. As few as 8 percent of customers use calorie information to drive their food choices.

That’s the upshot of recent findings by researchers at New York University, who say the reasons that calorie information falls flat with fast-food customers are complex. Successful fast-food menu labeling depends on many variables, such as the desire to eat healthy food and knowing how many calories you should consume each day.

The researchers used data from 1,400 customers, including about 700 people who were surveyed while eating at fast-food restaurants in Philadelphia after a menu-labeling law took effect. Among other things, they were asked if they saw calorie labels on food items, and whether they knew their correct daily calorie intake.

Just 8 percent of fast-food diners and 16 percent of those surveyed later met the five criteria that proved the calorie-count message was getting through. Nearly two-thirds of people who were surveyed in fast-food restaurants said they didn’t notice the calorie information.

The findings were published just ahead of a new federal rule that requires nationwide calorie labeling for chain restaurants with more than 20 locations.

The researchers noted that making calorie counts highly visible could help drive restaurants to add healthier items. The findings might also drive more discussion about how emphasizing healthier eating has many nuances, one of the researchers said.

Sooner or later, we all face that tempting question: Do you want fries with that? Before you answer, look twice at the menu board to bring you back to the numbers.