Survey: Diners – Especially Women – Using Posted Menu Calories

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If you spot calorie information on your restaurant menu, does it help you decide what to order?

For about six of every ten adults living in select states, that calorie information does help them decide what to order. At least sometimes, that is, with about one of every ten diners using that nutrition information for every purchase, according to a new government survey.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study comes from residents of 17 states that have menu labeling and completed a 2012 phone survey about it. In 2010, a federal law required chain restaurants to display the calories of their menu items, and some states started those requirements quickly.  Given that some studies show Americans eat up to a quarter of our calories at restaurants, using calorie information may help restaurant-goers make healthier choices. That, in turn, can reduce cancer risk.

Respondents were only counted if they visited fast food or chain restaurants and noticed the menu labeling. Among the findings:

– Of the 17 surveyed states, New Yorkers led the pack, with 61 percent using the information at least sometimes. Montana residents ranked the lowest, but still almost half (49%) looked at the calorie information sometimes.

– About one in four restaurant goers used the posted nutrition information always or most of the time, 12% and 14% respectively. Another 9% used the nutrition information about half the time.

– In every state, women are using menu nutritional information more than men. Among all the states surveyed, 67% of women are using the information compared to 47% of men.

– only 2% of those surveyed never noticed or looked for calorie information (these people were excluded).

The survey brings several caveats, including the fact that these are self-reports. And because data comes from only 17 states, it can not be generalized to the country. It also does not show that using the nutritional information translated into more healthful choices.

But it does suggest that many are noticing and using calorie information at restaurants, and that holds potential for those working to be a healthy weight and eat better.


    Author: Mya Nelson

    Mya R. Nelson is at American Institute for Cancer Research, where she writes about the research in the field.

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