By the end of 2012, it is expected that tens of thousands of U.S. restaurant chains will be required to post calorie counts on their menus in accordance with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010.
The act states:
“Chain restaurants and food vendors with 20 or more locations are required to display the caloric content of their foods on menus, drive-through menus, and vending machines. Additional information, such as saturated fat, carbohydrate, and sodium content, must also be made available upon request.“
As restaurant chains across the country scramble to comply with the new law, one study indicates that calorie counts are not proving to be an effective method in changing consumer eating habits.
The study, headed by Tulane marketing professor Dr. Janet Schwartz (see abstract), indicates that in their trials, adding calorie counts to menus had “no measurable impact on ordering behavior.”
So what is an effective method to control restaurant eating habits? Schwartz’s study finds that the mere offering of a “downsized” version of an entree at the same price, caused between 14% and 33% of individuals to choose the smaller serving. In addition, customers who accepted the reduced-calorie portions, which were some 200+ calories less than the regular portion, did not change the amount of uneaten food left at the end of the meal. This suggests that the offer to “downsize” the portions actually did translate to real calorie savings.
While calorie count and other nutrition values continue to be a vital metric for any diet-conscious consumer, it remains to be seen whether the new calorie posting legislation will provide any tangible benefits to consumers the long run.
Written by Matt Silverman, Co-Founder, Nutritionix.com
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