Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Calorie-Counting Posts Push Healthy Menu Changes in Restaurants

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Calorie-Counting Posts Push Healthy Menu Changes in Restaurants

Article excerpt

Early reports suggest that restaurant patrons shown the calorie content of the dishes they may order don't necessarily use that information to make better food and beverage choices.

But all may not be lost, a new study suggests: When eateries got ahead of a new federal mandate and voluntarily posted their offerings' calorie load for all to see, they appeared to whittle the calorie content of their offerings more aggressively than did establishments waiting for a calorie-posting requirement to take effect.

Reducing the calorific load of menu items may not improve consumers' decision-making. But it could just limit the damage of the decisions they make while dining, drinking or snacking away from home, the authors of the new research conclude.

In the new study, public health researchers from Johns Hopkins University, University of Pittsburgh and Harvard Medical School found that between 2012 and 2014, restaurants that moved to calorie posting early reduced the calorie content of standard items on their menus by an average of roughly 120 calories. New food items introduced by these restaurants averaged 146 fewer calories than their old standbys.

In 2014, restaurants that embraced calorie labeling averaged 139 fewer calories per item than restaurants without labeling. Similar differences were found in 2013 and 2012.

"The greatest impact on mandatory menu labeling on population health may come from restaurants' changing the calories of their menu items instead of consumers' changing their behavior," said the study authors, writing in Health Affairs on Monday.

It's been almost a decade since public health officials and activists first suggested that if burgeoning obesity rates were to be reversed, consumers eating away from home needed to make better- informed decisions. In December 2016, a federal law takes effect that requires the posting of food items' calorie counts not only at chain restaurants and fast-food joints, but also in establishments such as movie theaters, bowling alleys, snack counters, coffee shops and ice cream parlors.

Advocates of calorie posting were betting that when confronted with the calorie loads delivered by their favorite menu items, consumers would scan the menu for acceptable lower-calorie alternatives. …

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