Fast food nutrition labels have little effect

January 18, 2011 in Nutrition Topics in the News

Fast food nutrition labels have little effect
Surprising new study findings from researchers at Duke-National University of Singapore (NUS) Graduate Medical School suggest that nutrition labeling on fast food menus may have little impact on consumer behaviour.

As part of a comprehensive effort to stem the rise in obesity, a county in Washington, U.S., imposed mandatory menu labeling on all restaurant chains with 15 or more locations. Restaurants had to disclose calorie information at the point of purchase.

In the 13 months after the legislation went into effect, researchers found that the food-purchasing behavior at one fast food restaurant was identical to that in another location where menu boards remained unchanged.

Researchers found the total number of sales and average calories per transaction were unaffected by the menu labeling.

Researchers said that given the results of prior studies, they had expected the results to be small, but were surprised that they could not detect even the slightest hint of changes in purchasing behavior as a result of the legislation.

The study findings suggest that mandatory menu labeling, unless combined with other interventions, may be unlikely to significantly influence people's behaviour, and the obesity epidemic.

Researchers wonder if logos identifying healthier options may be more effective than providing all the nutrient details.  Researchers are calling for more studies to examine which sources of information are most likely to encourage consumers to switch to healthier options.

The findings were published in the American Journal for Preventive Medicine.

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