Health and fast food: calorie labels work
New Yorkers who frequent Au Bon Pain, KFC, McDonald’s and Starbucks who noticed calorie counts on menu labels ordered 106 fewer calories at the point-of-purchase than people who didn’t pay attention to the information.
Here’s evidence that labeling in fast-food destinations works.
At the annual meeting of the Obesity Society in Washington DC this week, researchers are presenting results on how transparency of calorie information motivates many health citizens to change their choices based on nutritional knowledge.
Reuters reports some details from the study. Researchers in New York polled 10,000 diners at 275 locations of the most popular fast food and coffee chains in the spring of 2007. They repeated the survey in the spring of 2009 among 12,000 consumers, who shared register receipts and survey responses.
New York implemented menu-labeling laws in March 2008. Data on the New York City fast food consumers was delivered at the meeting by Lynn Silver, MD, MPH, assistant commissioner for New York’s Bureau of Chronic Disease Prevention and Control. Dr. Silver believes this information will change consumers’ food choices over time. She looks to the industry to change portion sizes and offer healthy choices on menus.
Food and health marketers must respond, too, in helping people move toward healthier decisions, several presenters at the conference pointed out. A fifth fast food retailer, Subway, actually had consumers doubling their calories ordered during the study period. This is attributed to the company promoting 12-inch sub sandwiches in a consumer advertising campaign at the time the study was conducted.
Follow the Obesity Society on Twitter at @Obesity2009.
Health Populi’s Hot Points: Transparency is the new black in health care. Well, it’s not as much ‘new’ as it is ‘standard operating procedure’ for building trust and empowerment on the part of health citizens vis-a-vis the health industry. It will take the whole village in health to move Americans toward healthy food and lifestyle choices, akin to a strategic War on Healthy Living. We did it with Brooke Shields, tight jeans, and cigarettes; it can be done for healthy food, too, with engaging and innovative approaches to social marketing.
It’s astounding how many calories are consumed in fast food outlets at lunch — even with transparent labeling information. New Yorkers who heeded the labels purchased on average 754 calories’ worth of food for lunch in 2009. Consumers who did not pay attention to the menu labels purchased 860 calories’ worth of food.
So portion control, along with more healthy choices, plays a huge role in managing calories. Emerging technologies, such as iPhone apps and proprietary systems like Keas and Sensei, empower consumers on a 24×7 basis to bolster healthy choices.
For the food industry, this means bringing consumers into the information-fold the way health providers, plans, and life science companies have begun to do. It’s early days for all stakeholders who touch health citizens with products and services — including the food industry — but if all touchpoints provide useful, usable and design-friendly information, then we’ll achieve real health reform at the citizen level well beyond whatever comes out of Capitol Hill.
Thanks to Dr. Ted Eytan for his ongoing collegiality and knowledge-sharing. He is the model of a Participatory Provider in this era of Participatory Medicine and Health.