The Impact of Menu Labeling on Consumer Behavior: What’s the Long-Term Goal?

Menu labeling with calorie counts and nutrition information can have a profound effect on the health of Americans.

Menu labeling with calorie counts and nutrition information can have a profound effect on the health of Americans. Image source: Unsplash user Sophie Elvis.

The recent implementation of the FDA’s menu labeling guidelines has received a great deal of attention from the media over the past few months. One thing that comes up a lot in the coverage is whether or not menu labeling is effective. Incidentally, this is also something many restaurant owners who are considering voluntarily complying with the menu labeling laws ask me.

Truth be told, the impact of menu labeling on consumer behavior is a difficult thing to measure this soon after the guidelines have come into effect. While some studies have been done, we really don’t know for sure how calorie counts and nutrition information will impact people’s food choices over time.

What we can do, however, is look at the long-term goals of menu labeling and examine how providing calorie and nutrition information could shift consumer behavior and, as a result, the health of Americans. So, if you are a restaurant owner who is considering implementing menu labeling at your restaurant but are unsure of its potential impact, keep reading.

The Positive Impacts of Menu Labeling on Consumer Behavior

Before the menu labeling guidelines came into effect, several studies were done to determine if providing calorie and nutrition information could lead consumers to make healthier choices at restaurants. Some of these studies reported positive results, concluding that calorie counts really do prompt consumers to cut calories. Other studies, however, concluded that calorie counts did not reduce calorie consumption, especially in fast food establishments.

So, what do these conflicting results for menu labeling effectiveness mean? Well, many of these studies were poorly designed and did not account for how consumers’ attitudes and choices may change over time. If people are continually being exposed to calorie and nutrition information at restaurants, chances are good that the info will impact their behavior over time.

With that in mind, let’s look are some of the ways that continual exposure to calorie information could benefit Americans and their health:

  • Reducing Caloric Intake: In order to make changes in our lives, we have to be aware of what needs to change. By increasing public awareness about the nutritional value of various foods, menu labeling has the potential to inspire better food choices. Have you ever been shocked to find out that your go-to breakfast joint packs over 2,300 calories into your favorite meal? Chances are, once you became aware of how calorie-rich that meal was or how many grams of saturated fat it contained, you consumed it less often or chose something different altogether. We can only do better when we know better, after all.
  • Lowering Obesity Rates: It’s no secret that America has an obesity epidemic, but menu labeling could help change that. A study looking at the health impacts of calorie labeling on body mass index in urban areas found that calorie labeling had a significant effect on decreasing body mass index (BMI). In areas where calorie labeling was provided, researchers noticed a 0.9% reduction in BMI in overweight women, a 1.4% reduction in overweight men, and a 2% reduction in BMI among obese men. While these numbers may seem small, they are significant in the context of body mass.
  • Lowering Medical Costs: Diet and lifestyle-related disease is extremely prevalent in our nation. Not only is this a burden on the individual suffering from it, but it’s also a burden on the healthcare system. Since menu labeling can help people learn more about nutrition and make better food choices, we may see a decline in diet-related diseases. Don’t underestimate the big differences small changes can make. For example, it is estimated that if Americans reduced their daily sodium intake by 1,200 mg, our country could save $20 billion dollars in medical costs.

Given the potential that menu labeling has to impact the health of Americans, it makes a lot of sense to provide calorie and nutrition information to diners. And while not all restaurants are required to provide this information, many are opting in because they understand the power it has and want to make a difference.

How to Obtain Calorie and Nutrition Information

If this information has made you excited about how menu labeling can change America for the better and you want to opt into the FDA’s menu labeling guidelines, the first step is to complete nutrition analysis for your menu items. I recommend using an online nutrition analysis software. This kind of software is both much more cost-effective than alternative options, but it is also super simple to use. Plus, an FDA-compliant online nutrition analysis software will take care of nutrition information, calories counts, nutrient content claims, and allergen info for you—all formatted according to FDA rules.

There are many potential benefits to providing calorie and nutrition information on your restaurant menu. By choosing to provide this info, you will be making it easier for Americans to make better choices and live healthier lives. And while it may seem like a tall order, with the right online software, it can be a simple change.

MenuCalc is an industry-leading online nutrition analysis software trusted by restaurants across the nation. To get started, try a free 15-day trial or contact us. Short on time or staff? Our expert menu labeling consultants can do all the work for you.

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