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Study: calories do count

COLUMBUS Ohio A study at Ohio State University found that when menu information offered at a university dining center included calorie information, guests ordered lower-calorie entrées more often than when that information wasn’t posted. Overall, total sales didn’t suffer, however.

During the two-week study at a fast-food-style restaurant on campus in Columbus, 12 entrées were tracked, and the six highest-calorie items decreased in sales once calorie information was posted, while sales of lower-calorie items increased.


Sales of the highest-calorie item, at 839 calories, dropped 5.4 percent and sales of another entrée at 735 calories fell 25 percent. The sales of lower-calorie items, with an average of 492 calories, rose 8.2 percent on average, the study shows. The entrée with the lowest-calorie total, at 412 calories, rose 50 percent.


Once the calorie information was removed, sales gradually moved toward their previous levels, according to the study, which was published late last year in the American Journal of Public Health.


While this study used only a two-week period, observations in communities that now require chain restaurants to post calorie information on their menus and menu boards indicate that such changes in behavior are short-lived.


Restaurateurs in New York City, the first place in the United States to require posting of calorie information, said that any drops in sales happened right after the calorie information was reported. Read that story here.


Astudy conducted by researchers at New York and Yale University also indicated that most low-income customers in New York — who often are most susceptible to obesity problems — did not respond to the posted calorie information. It found that only 54 percent of those customers even noticed the calorie postings and 28 percent said the information affected their ordering. Read that story here.

The Los Angeles County public health department found last year that if just 10 percent of customers at chain restaurants reduced their calorie consumption by 100 calories per meal, 38.9 percent of the 6.75 million pounds the total population gained each year could be averted. The study was based on the county’s own demographics.

A2005 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service predicted that the likely result of menu labeling would be a change for the better in the nutrition content of menu items.

Indeed, since menu labeling has been implemented in some U.S. jurisdictions, many chains have started to offer lower-calorie items, including Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Applebee’s, Bob Evans, Corner Bakery and Perkins.

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected].

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