It doesn’t matter how many calories are in those burgers and fries. At fast food chains where calorie counts are prominently displayed, such as McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A, people still order whatever they want.
In fact, according to a new study, as few as eight percent of restaurant customers use calorie information to make healthier choices.
Study author Andrew Breck, a doctoral candidate at New York University’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, said he believes menu labeling is a crucial tool in the fight against obesity, but “the success of such a calorie-labeling campaign… requires that target consumers simultaneously see the calorie labels, are motivated to eat healthfully, and understand how many calories they should be eating.”
The world now has more overweight than underweight people, and obesity has been linked to a number of serious health issues, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and even cancer. In an effort to combat this growing problem, all fast food chains with more than 20 U.S. locations will be required to display calorie counts on their menus by May 2017.
But Breck says his study proves that restaurants need to do more than just show the numbers. He believes menus and menu boards should depict the calorie information in different colors from the food so they stand out. He also thinks menus should include statements about how most people require just 2,000 calories a day, as fewer than half the people he surveyed knew how many calories they should eat.
Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis, said menu calorie counts are a good start, but she agrees with Breck that more action and education are needed in the battle against obesity.
“Awareness is the first step in the change process, so if consumers begin to see the numbers, eventual change is possible,” Diekman told WebMD. “We have a ways to go to provide an environment that encourages and supports healthy eating.”