Would Requiring Nutrition and Calorie Labeling in Restaurants Make a Difference to Consumers?

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Nutrition and Calorie Labeling in Restaurants

Amid calls from public health and consumer advocacy groups for legislation that would require nutrition and calorie labeling on menus at fast-food and similar types of restaurants, a survey by researchers at the University of Vermont found significant numbers of people do not look at food labels now, and many are unable to use the information the labels contain.

Telephone surveys of more than 600 adults and more than 300 college students found that "approximately half of the surveyed college students and a third of the individuals in the community sample reported that they did not generally look at food labels," according to the researchers.

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In addition, the surveys found two-thirds of the participants were unable to identify the number of calories they should be consuming each day, and 44 percent to 57 percent of the combined sample "self-reported that they would not likely use restaurant food caloric information," according to the researchers.

The findings suggest labeling legislation "may not be particularly effective in combating the obesity epidemic if people are not looking at existing food labels and are not able to use this information for nutrition planning," according to the researchers.

"While it is always better for consumers to have access to more rather than less information, these preliminary results indicate that public health efforts to control obesity perhaps should first focus on an education campaign designed to teach appropriate calorie intake values and food label reading skills to the general public."

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