Would you have chosen the blueberry muffin to accompany your coffee if you knew it contained 438 calories? Would you have selected the pasta or pizza last night if calories were listed on the menu?
Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, led by example with his policies that required calorie labels on menus. This year, the labeling of chains with over 20 outlets will become compulsory across the USA. About 70% of high-street coffee shops, quick service restaurants, and other chains in the UK now label their products’ calorie count, although on a voluntary level.
It is easy to support nutrition labeling as a right of consumers because it allows people to make informed decisions about their food. Labeling has been shown to reduce the number of calories consumed, but it is less certain whether this actually occurs.
Can knowing the calorie content affect what we purchase? martiapunts/Shutterstock
The research review that was recently published in the Cochrane Library sought to determine whether and how nutritional labels on foods or non-alcoholic beverages affect the amount (calories) of energy people decide to purchase, eat, or drink.
The majority of studies provided specific information on the number of calories in foods and drinks. Adding calorie labels to menus and food items in cafeterias, coffee shops, and restaurants could help reduce the calories consumed or purchased by 8-12% per meal. The results were based on the findings of three studies conducted in “real-world” settings and eight other studies that examined the effects of calorie labels within laboratory settings.
For a subject of such importance, the number of studies on nutritional labeling was low. It is difficult to design high-quality studies that test the effects of labeling on the “real world.” Labeling is not the only factor that influences what’s on the menu or what people buy. Many studies of poor quality with inconclusive findings have contributed to previous uncertainty regarding the effects on menus. We rated each study and performed some analyses in order to separate the ones that were flawed from the others.