On counting calories: new research explores NYC menu labeling initiative
Do patrons alter their food choices when they see how many calories their selections contain? A study published October 6, 2009, in the journal Health Affairs by Brian Elbel, Rogan Kersh, Victoria L. Brescoll, and L. Beth Dixon examines how likely customers of restaurant chains in low-income New York City neighborhoods are to make healthier choices when the menus include prominent, now-mandatory calorie postings. The researchers collected about 1,100 cashier receipts two weeks before the city's calorie labeling law took effect and four weeks after. They found that eating habits did not change significantly in the wake of the initiative.
The researchers concluded, "In an ideal world, calorie labeling on menus and menu boards would have an immediate and direct impact on everyone's food choices. However, as has been seen in previous attempts to change the behavior of vulnerable populations (for example, [in relation to] cigarette smoking), greater attention to the root causes of behavior, or multifaceted interventions, or both, will be necessary if obesity is to be greatly reduced in the overall U.S. population."
Brian Elbel is an assistant professor at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University and in the Division of General Internal Medicine at the NYU School of Medicine. Rogan Kersh is an associate professor and associate dean of NYU Wagner. Victoria Brescoll is an assistant professor in the Yale School of Management. Beth Dixon is an associate professor in the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. The research for the study was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Eating Initiative, the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, and the New York University Wagner Dean's Fund.