“It has HOW MANY Calories?”

Categories: Well Nourished, Workplace Wellness

It has HOW MANY calories!?

How menu labeling affects consumers’ food choices

By Molly Rogers, Community Health Program Coordinator for Turn a New Leaf

Americans are dining out more than ever. According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, Americans eat as many as one third of their meals in restaurants.

Typically, restaurant foods are higher in fat, sugar, sodium and total calories than meals prepared at home; to make it worse, it can be troublesome to figure out the total number of calories in an entrée.

One study found that 9 out of 10 people underestimated the number of calories of less healthy items by an average of more than 600 calories! Even trained dieticians underestimated the total calorie counts by an average of 200 to 600 calories.

According to a poll by the National Restaurant Association, 76 percent of adults claimed they are trying to eat healthier when they go out to eat. If a menu item’s nutrition facts aren’t labeled, this can be a daunting task.

But thankfully, due to a push in consumer demand, more and more restaurants are providing nutrition information on their entrées.

But including menu labeling in restaurants raises the question: Does labeling nutrition facts on restaurant items change consumer ordering preferences? Research suggests that it does.

According to one study, almost half (48 percent) of American adults say reading the nutrition information on food labels made them change their purchasing habits. And 87 percent of Americans polled said they support requiring restaurants to list nutrition information. 

But can menu labeling practices have a positive community health impact? Research suggests that it can.

In a 2007 survey of New York City restaurants and fast food chains, people who saw the calorie information on their meals consumed on average 99 fewer calories than those who did not see the calorie information. This research suggested that “an average per meal reduction of 125 calories in 20 percent of restaurant patrons could be sufficient to begin a reversal of the obesity epidemic.”

Even if seeing the nutrition information on a menu item does not affect a consumers ordering patterns, at least the consumer is informed.

Many restaurants have begun voluntarily offering nutrition information on their menu items in recent years. In Cheshire County the “Turn a New Leaf” program works with area restaurants on their labeling practices. The program is designed to promote and easily indicate the better restaurant choice when dining out. By use of a simple icon, a consumer can be confident knowing they have picked the smarter choice.

We know it will take a multi-faceted approach to reverse the obesity epidemic. But menu labeling in restaurants is a valuable tool in this process.

So, next time you go out to eat, see if your favorite restaurant lists their nutrition information. Then ask yourself, does this affect my choice? Cheers to happy and informed eating!

If you know of a restaurant interested in implementing menu labeling, contact Healthy Monadnock, today.

About Molly Rogers: I am a community health program coordinator with the Turn a New Leaf Program. Turn a New Leaf is a community based initiative that helps make the smarter choice the easier choice. The program involves collaboration with myself, Keene State Dietetic Interns, and local food venue owners/managers with the goal of promoting and informing customers of the healthier choices available on the restauranteurs menu. I am a recent graduate of Keene State College with my B.S. in Health Science with a Community Health/Health Promotion concentration. I enjoy hiking, taking walks with my puppy, and spending time with family/loved ones.