Obesity in America has become epidemic and nearly half of American’s food budget is used on eating out. Restaurants and fast-food chains are notorious for having far more calories in meals then typical meals made at home.
New York City was the first city to start menu labeling initiatives in the late spring of 2008, which required all restaurant chains with at least 15 stores to list calories per serving next to each food item on the menu or menu board.
Similar initiatives have been passed in cities such as Philadelphia and states such as California, Oregon and Maine. As a part of the new health care reform law menu labeling in restaurants will become mandatory nationwide within the year.
The goal of menu labeling is to increase consumer awareness so that healthier choices can be made and inspire restaurant industry innovation.
But does the new menu labeling law actually impact consumer choice?
In January 2009 King Country in Washington State, which includes Seattle and some of its suburbs, started requiring menu labeling.
Researchers found that the proportion of customers who saw and used nutritional information tripled from 8.1% in 2008 to 24.8% in 2010. Those that were more likely to use the information were women, higher income groups and those eating at a fast-food versus a sit-down chain restaurant.
The number of customers using the calorie information isn’t great, however the significant increase in numbers of customers who saw and used the nutritional information is.
Also, a greater focus on informing low-income groups of menu labeling is needed. In time menu labeling may become more greatly used and make a differences in the obesity epidemic and the health of Americans.
Special thanks to Dietetic Intern Jenny Legrand for her contributions to this post.