Do Calories on Menus Change Behaviours?

sharma-obesity-calories-fast-food-menuRegular readers may recall a recent post regarding the Ontario Government’s announcement to introduce legislation requiring labelling of menus with calories (at least in chain restaurants).

But does this change behaviour?

This issue was now examined Hammond and colleagues from the University of Waterloo, Ontario), in a paper published in Preventive Medicine.

To test the hypothesis that nutrition labeling on menus will increase awareness, use, and food consumption, the researchers conducted a blinded randomized trial in 635 Canadian adults, who were asked to order a free meal from one of four experimental menus: 1) no nutritional information shown, 2) calorie amounts only, 3) calorie amounts in “traffic lights”, and 4) calorie, fat, sodium, and sugar shown in “traffic lights”.

It turns out that Participants in the calorie conditions were more likely to recall the calorie content of meals and to report using nutrition information when ordering.

Although the calorie content of meals was not significantly different across conditions, calorie consumption among participants in the Calorie-only condition was about 100 kcal less than that in the No information condition.

In contrast, adding “traffic lights”, fat, sodium, and sugar amounts to menus had little impact compared to calorie-only labeling.

These findings certainly lend support to the notion of putting calories on menus (something I have previously advocated for).

How effective such measures will be outside of the rather artificial environment of a study certainly remains to be seen.

If only there was not always this discrepancy between what works in the laboratory (efficacy) and what actually works in practice (effectiveness).

Zurich, Switzerland

ResearchBlogging.orgHammond D, Goodman S, Hanning R, & Daniel S (2013). A randomized trial of calorie labeling on menus. Preventive medicine PMID: 24113263