Are Calorie Counts On Menus A Game Changer?

My Bariatric Life Health Guide
  • As can be the case in many instances, ideas might look good on paper or sound good in board rooms, but whether they work in the real world is sometimes a different story. So then, how about posting calorie counts right next to the food choices on menus in restaurants?

    The premise seems sound enough. If consumers see a menu choice followed by a calorie count the length of an area code, they will shy away from the double bacon cheeseburger and make a more healthy choice.

    The idea has become popular enough and logical enough that restaurants are being forced to tack on calories counts to their menus. And so we are left with the big dollar question: Does any of this actually work?

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    A Case of We Like What We Like

    As mandated by the Affordable Care Act, all restaurants that have 20 or more locations nationally are required to post the number of calories in food and drink items offered on their menus. 


    This was really getting down to business then, except…

    Since the law was first enacted in Philadelphia in 2010, city residents have actually reported an increase in weekly visits to fast food restaurants. Prior to the law, residents stated that they frequented fast food restaurants six times a week. After the law that number rose to seven weekly visits.
    Not only that, but a poll of 2,000 Philadelphia fast-food patrons found that only 40 percent of customers noticed the posting of calories at all, and of that 40 percent only 10 percent used it and made a purchase that had fewer calories.

    So it seems if a person wants a double bacon cheeseburger, a person is going to have a double bacon cheeseburger and who cares how many calories have been packed into it. 

    How About More Information?

    Maybe posting the number of calories in each food item isn’t quite enough. Maybe a bit more information might help. Maybe not.

    Researchers from Carnegie Mellon tried not only posting the calorie count for each food item on a menu but also included recommendations on how many calories are appropriate for a meal. The effect of the effort was a crash and burn failure. 

    Researchers also selected two McDonald’s restaurants, one in Manhattan and the other in Brooklyn, to further test the effects of additional information on food choices. Some 1,121 adults were divided into three groups.

    One group was given information about recommended calories per meal for men (800 calories) and for women (600 calories). Another group was given information about recommended calories per day for men (2,400 calories) and for women (2,000 calories). The third group received no information at all.

    The end result was that despite useful information about calorie consumption, one third of the subjects ate more than 1,000 calories in the meal they selected. A majority of both men and women also ate more than the number of recommended calories for a meal. The bottom line is that an informed customer does not make for a customer who is ready to change her habits.

    Living life well-fed, 


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Published On: December 10, 2013