Portion Control

Posting nutrition information doesn't cut down on overeating
April 1, 2011
 
Universal language: Dinnerstein, left, and Merritt collaborated on the world

An effort in King County, Washington, to add nutrition facts to fast-food menus had no effect on customers’ ordering habits in its first year, according to researchers at the Duke-National University of Singapore (NUS) Graduate Medical School.

As part of a comprehensive effort to stem the rise in obesity in the U.S., the county—which includes Seattle—imposed a mandatory menu labeling regulation on all restaurant chains with fifteen or more locations. Restaurants had to disclose calorie information at the point of purchase.

The NUS researchers, who worked in partnership with the local public-health department, found that in the thirteen months after the legislation went into effect, there was no difference in the kinds of meals customers bought at Taco Time restaurants in King County and in Taco Time restaurants where menu boards remained unchanged. The total number of sales and the average number of calories per purchase were unaffected by the menu labeling.

Researchers say this could be because the restaurant was already identifying the healthier options with a special symbol on the menu board before the legislation went into effect.

“A simple logo identifying which foods are healthiest may be all it takes to convey that information to those consumers who wish to choose a healthier alternative,” says Eric Finkelstein, an associate professor of health services at NUS and the study’s lead author. “The additional information appears not to have made a difference.”

As part of the recently passed health-care reform law, the federal government has plans for a nationwide launch of mandatory nutrition information at the point of purchase for fast-food chains with twenty or more outlets.