Maybe you've seen those little number charts next to your favorite fast foods, maybe you haven’t, or maybe you've seen them, but you didn't use them to guide your decision for a less calorific meal. Most major fast food chains have them: calorie labels displayed next to meals and drinks to tell you how many calories you are getting per serving so that you can make better decisions for your diet, specifically when it comes to healthy weight management. As of 2010 it was made a law that all fast food chains or restaurants with 20 or more locations must post calorie labels on their menus. But according to a recent study, some people still don’t notice them, and many more people tend to ignore them.
The Philadelphia Experiment
In a survey conducted by Brian Elbel, an assistant professor of population health and health policy at the NYU School of Medicine, 2000 fast-food customers in Philadelphia ages 18–64 were polled on whether they noticed and then used the calorie labels on display in restaurants.
Elbel and his team collected receipts from customers frequenting two major fast food chains and asked them a series of questions, including if they noticed the calorie labels and if the labels affected their decision making when it came to meals. Simultaneously, phone surveys were also carried out throughout Philadelphia asking residents the same questions.
Missing the Markers
The results of the study show that many people are still not aware of the calorie labels in restaurants and how they can use these charts to positively influence their daily diet. Of the 2000 people polled 40% said they noticed the calorie labels while only 10% claimed that they used the labels to purchase meals with fewer calories. While the displaying of calorie labels did appear to have some impact on people’s food choices, researchers suggest that other strategies are needed to help guide people towards making wiser, healthier food choices. “Providing calorie information is not enough,” said Alice Lichtenstein, a professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University. “If we want people to use the information, we need to raise awareness about its availability and most importantly, educate about its use.”
Awareness and Choices
To effectively influence further change it is important to recognize and use the healthy tools that are available to you. Monitoring how much you eat can start with understanding your limit for daily caloric intake, obtaining the required nutrients you need from food and supplements, and getting enough daily physical activity. The average diet should consist of around 2000 calories a day (this can be higher or lower depending on gender, age, and dietary goals). How you get these calories is another matter. Calorie labels can be one of many helpful tools that are at your disposal to influence healthier eating habits, so the next time you’re dining out pay closer attention to what you’re eating because the information is there for your benefit.