More fast food and chain restaurants are posting calorie counts on their menus, but a new study suggests only one in three diners reads that information.
The good news: most consumers who do read calorie counts take them into consideration when deciding what to order.
Some U.S. cities, including New York, San Francisco and Philadelphia, require chain restaurants to post calorie counts for diners. Chains with at least 20 locations nationwide have to list nutrition information on their menus.
The hope is that restaurant patrons will see the calorie information posted at fast food and other restaurants and choose a meal with fewer calories. But so far, the evidence is really mixed about whether that actually happens.
The new study was conducted by researchers at the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia.
The researchers analyzed responses from 4,363 participants about whether they had read calorie information at fast food and chain restaurants, and if they had, how they used that information.
Over half of the respondents said they went to fast food or chain restaurants less than once a week. Ten percent reported going three or more times per week, and another 10 percent said they never went to those restaurants.
About 36 percent of people who saw calorie information at chain restaurants read it. Of them, 95 percent reported using the information at least sometimes.
Respondents who went to fast food and chain restaurants three or more times per week were less likely to read calorie counts than those who went less often. Women were more likely to read calorie counts than men.
Previous studies in specific cities like New York, Seattle, and Philadelphia, showed awareness of the calorie labels increased from before calories were required to be posted in those cities. However. Most of these studies haven't seen any changes in calories purchased before and after menu labeling laws went into effect.
Posting calorie information on menus may motivate restaurants to provide more healthy options. Some research has suggested fast food restaurants are offering more salads and other low-calorie side dishes than in the past.
Source: Journal of Public Health, online November 20, 2013.
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