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Do Consumers Use Calorie Labels?

Armen Hareyan's picture

Nutritional information

"Americans are now officially supersized," said a recent New York Times editorial, citing increasingly ponderous figures on obesity. Nearly two-thirds of adults and millions of children are packing pounds that put their health at risk.

Among the ideas for reversing this trend was a call for nutrition labeling in fast food and other chain restaurants. But will it help?

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That's the question driving a new study led by Rebecca Krukowski, doctoral student in psychology, that will be published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association in June. The answers aren't encouraging. Significant numbers of people surveyed indicated that they lacked either the knowledge or inclination to effectively use labels in restaurants.

"We were kind of surprised at our results," says Krukowski, who co-authored the paper with Jean Harvey-Berino, Jane Kolodinsky, Rashmi Narsana and Thomas DeSisto. "It appears that a large portion of the population isn't interested in having (nutritional information)."

That Americans might benefit from acting upon such data is clear. Thirty-seven percent of adults in a large representative sample reported eating at a fast-food restaurant at least once during a two-day period. According to a report by the FDA Working Group on Obesity, Americans spend nearly half of their food budget outside the home