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Nutrition information on menus: Is there a better way?


By Meredith Melnick for


Do you read the calorie count listed on a menu before ordering your lunch? And does it affect what you order?

Fast food restaurants around the country are poised to add calorie counts to their menus, thanks to a directive from the Affordable Care Act, and lawmakers and public health officials alike hope that you will consider calories at the counter.

Like much of the ACA, the emphasis is on prevention—in this case, in the fight against obesity. The policy, the details of which are currently being designed by the FDA, tackles one of our biggest obesogens: The food environment. But the reaction from public health officials has been mixed, due to some skepticism about the value of a calorie. Instead, a subset of researchers are asking: Is there a better way to measure what we eat?

The largest problem with menu calorie labels is simply that they may not be very effective. Most of the research shows that restaurant customers, both adults and children, do not order fewer calories at the cash register when they see calorie values, compared to viewing more traditional menus.

What’s more, researchers who use eye scans to study retail behavior report that people look at nutrition labels less than they believe they do.

Keep reading to find out the measure scientists are proposing instead of calorie counts…

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