Does knowing a hot dog with the works has 404 calories deter you from wolfing it down? How about knowing you’d have to play 50 minutes of tennis to burn those calories?
While food labels display calorie-per-serving information and the FDA tries to figure out the logistics of requiring calorie counts on menus, a new study shows this may not be the best way to help people make better eating decisions. Researchers at Texas Christian University (TCU) gave 300 men and women, ages 18 to 30, three menus with identical food and drink options: One menu had no calorie labeling, the second listed calorie counts, and the third displayed the number of minutes of brisk walking required to burn each food item’s calories. “Brisk walking is something nearly everyone can relate to, which is why we displayed on the menu the minutes of brisk walking needed to burn food calories,” said Ashlei James, TCU grad student and lead researcher.
The results? People ordered and ate less from menus showing the exercise needed to burn their orders’ food calories than they did from menus displaying only calorie counts. Also of note — there was no significant difference between responses to menus with calorie counts included and those without. Which begs the question: Is displaying calorie counts on restaurant menus really the best way to help consumers make informed choices? As an aside, those counts are often inaccurate.
Another survey of New York City consumers (where menu labeling has been required since 2008) also puts the effectiveness of calorie labeling in the spotlight: Only a sixth of the 2009 survey respondents used calorie information to decide what to purchase from fast food restaurants. Yet the government has spent three years and untold dollars dealing with the thorny issue of menu labeling. Hmmm…
I’m pretty sure knowing I’d have to walk a 26.2 mile marathon to burn off my typical Thanksgiving meal might make me pause before piling on the mashed potatoes. How about you?
Image credit: TheCulinaryGeek via flickr/CC