Various states and cities have introduced new laws and restaurant requirements to inform customers about the foods they eat. New York City, Massachusetts and California are just a few places where restaurants have incorporated calorie-labeled menus to share more nutritional information with consumers. Research has varied, however, when analyzing diners’ use of menu labels.

A new study from the American Journal of Public Health found that informing customers of recommended calorie intake alongside pre-existing menu labels did not help customers use the calorie-labeled menus more effectively, nor did it reduce the number of calories they purchased.

Taking place in two New York City McDonald’s restaurants with calorie-labeled menus, researchers distributed recommended daily calorie intake to one group, recommended per-meal calorie intake to another and no additional materials to a third group. They then analyzed the purchases of more than 1,000 adult lunchtime customers and conducted surveys to gather customers’ understanding of calorie consumption.

Results showed that more information about calorie intake did not have an effect on the final food purchases customers made, with regard to calories.

With the U.S. Food and Drug Administration working toward menu labeling as a component of the Affordable Care Act, research studies like this may play an important role in developing the most effective means of keeping consumers aware of their nutritional options.

“Regardless of whether menu labeling has the intended effect of reducing calorie consumption, we are in agreement with policymakers that increased transparency in product labeling is inherently desirable,” the study’s authors wrote.

What do you think is the best way to inform consumers about the foods they eat and encourage healthy, nutritious decisions? Share your thoughts below. 

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