January 20, 2010

Study Finds Menu Labels Including Daily Caloric Requirement are Much More Effective Than Labels Alone

Ralph Loglisci

Ralph Loglisci

Food and Health Policy Writer

Last week I discussed why obesity experts, such as Drs. Kelly Brownell and David Kessler, believe highly processed foods are leading to excessive overeating. Until healthier unprocessed foods are more readily available and affordable, today I want to focus on one way we can thwart the cravings believed to be triggered by eating foods engineered or prepared with extra fat, sugar and salt and that’s by reducing your daily caloric intake.

With our fast paced lives and limited time to prepare meals, Americans are eating out much more often than just a decade ago. The latest numbers show that we spend almost half of our food expenditures outside the home.

Since foods purchased outside the home are often higher in calories and served in larger portions there’s been a push at all government levels to encourage restaurants to post calorie labels on their menus to give consumers a better idea of just how many calories they’re consuming. New York City was first to pass a menu-labeling law in 2006. Since then several cities and states, including Philadelphia, Nashville, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Oregon have all passed their own menu-labeling legislation. The latest state to approve a menu-labeling bill is New Jersey. And soon we could see a federal law passed. Both House and Senate versions of the Health Care Reform Bill have menu-labeling provisions attached.

Scientists at Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity recently published a study in the American Journal of Public Health that found, “calorie labels on restaurant menus impacted food choices and intake.” However they found not all labels were as effective. The authors said, “Most striking was the impact of adding daily caloric requirement information to the menu.” Researchers found that when they included the statement, ”The recommended daily caloric intake for an average adult is 2000 calories,” subjects ate significantly fewer calories than those who were solely provided with the total caloric content. The study’s lead author, Christina Roberto, wrote in the Rudd Center’s blog, “What this study suggests is that putting a statement informing people about daily caloric requirements can maximize the effectiveness of menu labeling.”

Reminding everyone about their approximate daily caloric requirement is what Healthy Monday’s latest campaign entitled Monday 2000 is all about. The non-profit Healthy Monday initiative was launched in 2007 as a way to help reduce risk factors for chronic disease by utilizing a weekly prompt approach to health behavior change interventions. As with Meatless Monday, the Center for a Livable Future provides the national Healthy Monday initiative technical assistance and scientific support. Currently CLF plans to conduct a Monday 2000 project at Johns Hopkins in hopes of furthering the Rudd Center’s findings.

– Ralph Loglisci

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