Large U.S.-based chain restaurants that voluntarily list calorie counts on their menus average nearly 140 fewer calories per item than those that do not post the information, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health-led research suggests.
The findings, published in the November issue of Health Affairs, come as all American chain restaurants with more than 20 outlets and many other establishments that serve food, including ice cream shops and movie theaters, will be required to post calories on their menus beginning in December 2016. Calorie labeling, required as part of the Affordable Care Act, was put in place with the goal of steering people towards lower calorie choices, which could, in turn, help Americans eat more healthfully.
While the requirements won’t go into effect for another year, five of the 66 largest U.S. restaurant chains have already introduced voluntary calorie counts on menus in all their outlets: Panera and Jamba Juice since 2010, McDonald’s since 2012 and Chick-fil-A and Starbucks since 2013.
“The menu items in restaurants with voluntary labeling have fewer average calories than restaurants without labeling,” says study co-author Ms. Julia A. Wolfson, a CLF-Lerner Fellow and a PhD candidate in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Johns Hopkins. “If other chain restaurants follow this same trend once mandatory menu labeling goes into effect, it could significantly improve the restaurant environment for consumers. This could get consumers to eat healthier without having to change their behavior, something that is a very difficult thing to do and sustain.”