Menu Labeling Regulations and Calories Purchased at Chain Restaurants

This study examined whether the mean number of calories purchased by consumers decreased after the regulation to include caloric information on menus was implemented.

In King County, Wash., 40 food restaurants and 10 coffee restaurants were included in this study from Fall 2008 through Spring 2010.  Baseline was measured 1–3 months prior to the regulation, and additional time points included 4–6 months post, and 16–18 months post. Twenty-five restaurants were in low-income/high diversity areas and 25 were not in low-income/high diversity areas. Customers were recruited at each restaurant and participated in an exit survey regarding use and awareness of menu labeling, knowledge of daily calories, demographics, and details about the customization of items purchased. The final sample included 6,125 food chain and 1,200 coffee chain patrons.

Key Findings:

  • A decrease in mean calories per purchase was noted 18 months after implementation: 22 kcal decrease in coffee chains and 38 kcal decrease in food chains.
  • The most notable reduction in caloric intake was among women and patrons of taco and coffee establishments.

Given the high frequency of dining out, awareness and use of caloric information on menus has potential to contribute to obesity prevention.