The cost and impact of calorie labeling

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Alterations in our calorie intake [WHAT ALTERATIONS?] vsome of a new study [LINK] reported in JAMA Network Open. The ACA came into effect three years ago; data on changes in calorie content comes from MenuStat, a database created and maintained by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene covering the 100 largest restaurant chains in the United States. Their data goes back to 2012 and captures the calories associated with the meal offerings of the 100 restaurants. The researchers limited the restaurants to those with complete data from 2013 to 2019, for a total of 59 chains. The restaurants included “fast food restaurants, quick service restaurants, full service restaurants, and coffee shops,” with any business having at least 20 locations in the United States.

The main outcome of interest was the number of calories for the menu; secondary observations focused on the number of calories by food category (ie starter or dessert) and calories in existing or newly added items.

  • The overall calorie content of the menu items did not change after labeling – an average of 2 calories less
  • The calorie content of continuously offered items did not change after labeling – an average of 2.3 calories less [NOT EXACTLY CLEAR HOW THIS IS DIFFERENT FROM YOUR FIRST BULLET POINT]
  • The calorie content among specific menu items or types of restaurants did not change after the labeling was launched. [I DON’T GET IT. DO YOU MEAN CONSUMED CALORIES OR THE CALORIES IN THE MEAL? IF THE LATTER, WHY WOULD PUTTING A NUMBER ON THE MENU CHANGE THE ITEM?]
  • For the newly introduced items, the calorie changes were a mixed bag. Fast food restaurants cut calories by the same amount as fast food restaurants [2] increased them. Full-service restaurants and coffee shops fueled the overall average reduction of 112 calories.
  • Micronutrients, saturated and unsaturated fats, carbohydrates (except fiber) and protein have all been reduced. Sugar has increased slightly
  • Items removed from the menu did not differ significantly from those that remained, except in fast-food and casual restaurants

Here is the graph:

Change? Dish like the proverbial low-calorie pancake. For those with an economic turn, the cost of re-labeling restaurants was at least $ 22,000 per calorie, not including the cost of the new signage. Of course, this is a one-time cost, and others will say it’s a good deal.

The researchers agree that the calorie count hasn’t changed substantially, except for new items that cut calories by 25% – quite a change. Of course, we don’t know if these items were purchased to a significant degree, so the impact on lowering calories as well as the health “holy grail” of improved weight remains unknown. Still seeing the silver lining, the authors write

“… even small proportional reductions in the consumption of prepared foods due to calorie labeling could have beneficial effects on the health of the population.” “

They also note that there has been a trend towards ‘lighter’ choices that started even before the labeling regulations went into effect, around 17 calories per year – the new regulations had no. impact. And there’s the “worrying trend” (my words) of removing low-calorie items from the menu. It does not appear that restaurants are sensitive to the need for calorie labeling; they seem, oddly enough, sensitive to the demands of their clients. Whether we like it or not, many of us choose good taste over low calorie when given the choice. Labeling doesn’t seem to really move the range forward, so to speak, to “better” choices.

“Given the relatively low cost of implementing calorie labels, our results suggest that the United States should continue to implement this intervention while exploring additional strategies to improve the nutritional quality of foods purchased from restaurants. . “

What is that saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?”

[1] Cost of menu labeling Center for Science in the Public Interest

[2] Fast food is Taco Bell, Quick and Casual Chipolte; fast food is McDonald’s, Quick and casual Shake Shack

Source: Changes in calorie content of menu items at large chain restaurants after the implementation of the JAMA Network Open DOI calorie labels: 10.1001 / jamanetworkopen.2021.41353

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