As many states introduce regulations requiring restaurants to post calorie information on menus, a new study from the American Journal of Public Health finds that also informing consumers of recommended calorie intake does not help consumers use menu labels more effectively.
Researchers analyzed the purchase behaviors of 1,121 adult lunchtime consumers at two McDonald’s restaurants in New York, N.Y. The study investigated the potential interaction between pre-existing menu labeling and the addition of recommended calorie intake information. The study consisted of three groups of customers who were shown: (1) recommended daily calorie intake; (2) recommended per-meal calorie intake; and (3) no additional information. Survey data was also gathered to capture customers’ understanding of calorie consumption and demographic information.
Results found no interaction between use of the calorie recommendations and the pre-existing menu labels, suggesting that incorporating calorie recommendations did not help customers make better use of the information provided on calorie-labeled menus. Further, providing calorie recommendations, whether calories per-day or per-meal, did not show a reduction in the number of calories purchased.
“These results provide little hope that calorie recommendations will salvage the apparent weak or nonexistent effect of menu labeling in the field,” observe the authors.
“Regardless of whether menu labeling has the intended effect of reducing calorie consumption, we are in agreement with policymakers that increased transparency in product labeling is inherently desirable,” the authors conclude.
Supplementing menu labeling with calorie recommendations to test for facilitation effects – Julie Downs, American Journal of Public Health