Christina Roberto, M.S. and PhD candidate at Yale University, recently authored a study about the effects of calorie labeling on food choices. The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity study found that calorie labeling on menus improved choices, but posting the 2000 calorie a day recommendation as well maximized the effect.
Your study points out the increasing trend of eating out (i.e. food with generally lower nutritional value). How would calorie postings improve dietary patterns?
When eating out at restaurants, choices are no longer intuitive: it isn’t necessarily the case that a salad has fewer calories than a burger. Providing people with calorie information allows them to make informed decisions when dining. Requiring calorie information on menus also encourages restaurants to add lower calorie items.
Why is it that most of us have difficulty approximating the calories of restaurant meals?
Part of the reason is restaurants are businesses that need their food to taste as good as possible, so you keep going back. There is little incentive to balance taste and health. Most of us would never dream that a lot of restaurant foods have as many calories as they do!
This was the first study to assess consumption patterns when posting the daily calorie recommendations. What led to the decision of testing this variable in your study?
We thought that providing people with calorie information alone, without offering context, might dilute the effects of such labeling. Seeing that an appetizer is over 1000 calories doesn’t really hit home until you realize you should only be eating about 2000 calories per day and that appetizer will get you half way there!
Do daily calorie intake recommendations posted at a single meal impact food choices throughout the day?
In our study, we learned that people who had the daily caloric intake statement and calorie labels on their menus ate 250 fewer calories throughout the day than either of the other groups. This suggests that putting a statement informing people about daily caloric requirements can maximize the effectiveness of menu labeling.
Do you think there is value in a weekly reminder to stay within a healthy calorie limit?
People are very busy and we live in a food environment that constantly promotes poor food choices, so I think reminders about making healthy food choices can be very beneficial!
Maintain a healthy body weight by heading the recommended daily limit of 2000 calories. For a weekly reminder to reset your caloric calendar, do the Monday 2000!