Has Calorie Labeling Changed Your Fast Food Choices?

Lisa Nelson, RD, LN Health Pro
  • According to a study published in the International Journal of Obesity calorie labeling has not impact on fast food purchases for low income parents or teens.
    This study was lead by an assistant professor of medicine and health policy at the New York University School of Medicine. The study found calorie labeling increased calorie awareness, but did not influence the number of calories consumed.

    Back in July 2008, before New York implemented a new calorie labeling regulation, the study surveyed fast food customers and collected fast food receipts for purchases at four main fast food chains - Wendy's, Burger King, McDonald's, and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Researchers followed up with the same survey and receipt collection one month after labeling regulation was implemented.

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    Pre- and post- calorie regulation surveys and receipts were collected from low income New York areas and compared to a control group taken from Newark. Low income areas were targeted by the study due to increased risk for obesity and health issues; as well as, low income areas tend to have a higher concentration of fast food restaurants and fewer healthy dining options.


    Study participants included 349 children and adolescents 17 years-old or younger. (Young children with their parents were not surveyed, but their parents completed the survey.) Sixty-nine percent of children visited the restaurants with their parents, while 31% were without parental supervision. Seventy-five percent of participants were from New York City with 90% from racial or ethnic minority groups.

    Study Results

    Study results show just over half the adolescents and adults noticed the calorie information being available after it's implementation. Only 16% of adults and 9% of adolescents said the calorie labeling mattered to them.

    The number of calories purchased did not change after calorie labeling began. The average number of calories purchased by adolescents equals 725 calories and adults 600 calories.

    Adolescents tended to order fewer calories when with their parents. Fifty-seven percent of parents made order decisions for their children, while 31% of children choose for themselves, and 6% make the decision together. Interestingly, parents who made the decision for their children did not choose fewer calories than if the children were to order for themselves.

    As part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 the US Food and Drug Administration must issue proposed regulations for national calorie labeling by March 23rd. This will impact restaurants with 20 or more locations and include calorie posting on menu boards.

    What do you think?


    Is the calorie labeling going to impact your food choices? If not, what do you think needs to be done in these efforts to reduce the American obesity epidemic?

    Be sure to sign up for the free e-course ‘How to Lower Cholesterol in 8 Simple Steps' provided courtesy of Health Central dietitian Lisa Nelson at http://lowercholesterolwithlisa.com.

Published On: March 08, 2011