Calorie Labeling, Fast Food Purchasing and Restaurant Visits
Obesity, 21: 2172–2179. doi: 10.1002/oby.20550
Elbel, B., Mijanovich, T., Dixon, L. B., Abrams, C., Weitzman, B., Kersh, R., Auchincloss, A. H. and Ogedegbe, G.
Obesity is a pressing public health problem without proven population-wide solutions. Researchers sought to determine whether a city-mandated policy requiring calorie labeling at fast food restaurants was associated with consumer awareness of labels, calories purchased and fast food restaurant visits.
Design and Methods
Difference-in-differences design, with data collected from consumers outside fast food restaurants and via a random digit dial telephone survey, before (December 2009) and after (June 2010) labeling in Philadelphia (which implemented mandatory labeling) and Baltimore (matched comparison city). Measures included: self-reported use of calorie information, calories purchased determined via fast food receipts, and self-reported weekly fast-food visits.
The consumer sample was predominantly Black (71%), and high school educated (62%). Postlabeling, 38% of Philadelphia consumers noticed the calorie labels for a 33% point (P < 0.001) increase relative to Baltimore. Calories purchased and number of fast food visits did not change in either city over time.
While some consumers report noticing and using calorie information, no population level changes were noted in calories purchased or fast food visits. Other controlled studies are needed to examine the longer term impact of labeling as it becomes national law.