Calorie count on restaurant menus can help you order less, eat healthy

You might start ordering food with fewer calories, if restaurants mentioned calories on their menus, say Cornell University. Researchers found that diners at full service restaurants whose menus listed calories ordered meals with three percent fewer calories - about 45 calories less - than those who had menus without calorie information.

Customers ordered fewer calories in their appetiser and entree courses, but their dessert and drink orders remained the same. "Even if you're an educated person who eats out a lot and is aware of nutrition, there can still be surprising things in these calorie counts," said co-author John Cawley.

Even the chefs at the restaurants in the study were startled by the high number of calories in some dishes, such as a tomato soup/grilled cheese sandwich combo. To find out how this affects consumer behaviour, the researchers conducted a randomised field experiment in two full-service restaurants. Each party of diners was randomly assigned to either a control group, which received the usual menus, or a treatment group, which got the same menus but with calorie counts next to each item.

The study also found that diners valued the calorie information. Majorities of both the treatment and control groups supported having calorie labels on menus, and exposure to the calorie counts increased support by nearly 10%. "It's clear that people value this information," Cawley said. The study appears in the National Bureau of Economic Research.

 

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