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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Washington Study Finds Posting Calorie Counts on Menus Raises Awareness

Awareness of the calories in fast-food items tripled after a mandatory menu-labeling law took effect in the Seattle area, a study from the University of Washington School of Public Health has found.

Researchers led by Dr. Roxana Chen, a PhD student at the time of the research and now an affiliate professor of health services, found awareness and use of calorie information increased from 8.1 percent in 2008 to 24.8 percent in 2010. In 2009, King County became the second U.S. jurisdiction after New York City to enact a menu-labeling regulation. Similar federal rules were recently finalized for chain restaurants and vending machines.

Roxana Chen photo
[Photo: Photo: Dr. Roxana Chen]

“It definitely is promising,” Dr. Chen, a social-research scientist with Public Health – Seattle & King County, told The Seattle Times. “If you post information, more people are going to see it and use it.”

Researchers examined responses from more than 3,000 Seattle-area residents who said they had eaten at a restaurant chain within the previous week. The responses were part of the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. The study was published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Some disparities were found. Researchers noted that White, higher income, and obese respondents had greater odds of seeing calorie information, and that women, higher income groups, and those eating at a fast-food versus a sit-down chain restaurant were more likely to use this information. Additional approaches are needed to improve menu-labeling awareness among the other groups, the study said.

The study did not capture the amount of calories purchased or consumed, but previous studies have found that calorie consumption has dropped after menu labeling.