Thursday, October 29, 2009

See calories on menus - eat more at home?!

There's an odd question, but if new research holds true the answer may be yes.

In a study currently in press (meaning accepted but not yet published) by Roberto and colleagues, 303 subjects were studied with 3 different dinner menu situations.

The first menu was a standard fast casual style menu with no calories posted.

The second menu was the same food/layout but with calories posted beside each item.

The third menu was the same food/layout with calories beside but with a line at the top that explained that 2,000 calories was how many the average person needed each day.

The results were fascinating.

Without calorie labeled the average consumer ordered 2,189 calories, with calories that went down to 1,862 calories and with the 2,000 calorie anchor statement, 1860.

So? That doesn't sound fascinating. Calories posted lowered calories. Um, not exactly. It lowered ordered calories.

Next the researchers looked as consumed calories (by subtracting food left on the plates). Without calories labeled the average consumer ate 1,459 calories, with calories that went down to 1,335 and with the 2,000 calorie anchor statement, 1,256.

Ok, that's pretty neat but fascinating?

Here's the really cool part. Researchers then contacted these folks the next day and using dietary recall (yes, it's inaccurate but still useful to see trends) they explored what these folks ate after dinner.

Folks who had menus without calories ate an additional 179 calories, folks with calories labeled ate an additional 294 calories, and those with the anchor statement in addition to calories ate 177 more.

Putting it all together (calories eaten at dinner and then later at home), folks without labeled menu calories ate a total of 1,630 calories, folks with calories labeled ate a total of 1,625 calories and those with the 2,000 calorie anchor statement ate a total of 1,380 calories.

What this research suggests is that if consumers are not made aware of how many calories they burn each day posting calories on menus may lead them to feel they can consume more at home because they chose a "lower" calorie choice when they were out.

Certainly suggests that any menuboard calorie initiative needs to include an educational component. Maybe it's not a huge surprise. Trying to navigate calories without context would be like trying to manage your money travelling without knowing the currency exchange.


(Interesting sidebar. The American federal labeling bill that's currently being considered does include a 2,000 calorie anchor statement in its requirements. Great comment at the conference by Diane Finegood who pointed out that for many women 2,000 calories daily would in fact cause significant weight gain.)