The Impact of Menu Labeling on Fast-Food Purchases for Children and Parents

Menu labeling is often endorsed as an important means for helping consumers make healthy food choices. National health reform will soon require chain restaurants to post nutrition information at point-of-purchase. This study examines the impact menu labeling at restaurants has on calories purchased by children and parents.

Study participants were recruited from the Neighborhood Impact on Kids (NIK) study for this prospective cohort study of children aged 6-11 years and their parents. Restaurant receipts from 75 children and parents were examined before and after menu-labeling regulation in Seattle/King County. Seattle/King County results were compared with San Diego County (n=58), where there was no menu-labeling regulation. Data were collected in 2008 and 2009.

Key Findings:

  • There was no change in average calories purchased for children between pre- to post-regulation in either county.
  • 87 percent of parents reported seeing nutrition information post-regulation, as compared to 44 percent pre-regulation.
  • Regardless of whether or not nutrition information was seen, parents decreased calorie intake by 100 in both counties.

This study found that while awareness of nutrition information and calories increased because of nutrition labeling, calories purchased did not decrease. The researchers suggest that larger samples, over longer time periods, and additional characterization of individual or environmental factors, will need to studied.