Experimental menu labelling studies

Menu labelling & food consumption
Food consumed outside the home accounts for a growing proportion of the North American diet and has been associated with increased obesity. A blinded randomized trial was conducted with Canadian adults to examine the effect of nutrition labelling on menus on awareness, use, and food consumption. We compared the effectiveness of calorie numbers alone with “traffic light” labelling for calories and other nutrients. Participants ordered a free meal from one of four experimental menus: 1) no nutritional information shown, 2) calorie amounts only, 3) calorie amounts in “traffic lights”, and 4) calorie, fat, sodium, and sugar shown in “traffic lights”. Recall of nutrition information, knowledge of calorie content and nutrient consumption were assessed.

Participants in the calorie conditions were more likely to recall the calorie content of meals and to report using nutrition information when ordering. The calorie content of meals was not significantly different across conditions; however, calorie consumption was significantly lower among participants in the Calorie-only condition compared to the No information condition.
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Calorie information & “physical activity equivalents”
Are there more effective ways to communicate calorie information to consumers? We evaluated consumer preferences of calorie labeling on menu among undergraduate university students using a between-group experiment. Participants were randomized to view menu items according to 1 of 4 experimental conditions: no calorie information, calorie-only information, calorie plus health statement (HS), and calorie plus the Physical Activity Scale. Participants selected a snack and then rated menus from all conditions on the level of understanding and perceived effectiveness.

Participants who selected items from menus without calorie information selected snacks with higher calorie amounts than participants in the calorie-only condition (P ¼ .002) and the calorie plus HS condition. The calorie plus HS menu was perceived as most understandable and the calorie plus calorie plus Physical Activity Scale menu was perceived as most effective in helping to promote healthy eating. Overall, the findings suggest that calorie labeling on menus may assist consumers in making healthier choices, with consumer preference for menus that include contextual health statements.
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