Majority of Americans who read calorie info at restaurants use it, though number is small

By Maggie Hennessy

- Last updated on GMT

Majority of Americans who read calorie info at restaurants use it, though number is small

Related tags Fast food

Just a third (36.4%) of US adults read calorie information when it is available at fast-food and chain restaurants, but 95.4% of those that do read it use this information at least sometimes when making their food choices, according to a new study.

Researchers in a Centers for Disease Control study published this week in the Journal of Public Health​ examined socio-demographic variables in a sample of 4,363 adults using the 2009 HealthStyles survey.  

Of the 3,512 who reported eating at fast-food and chain restaurants, only 36.4% reported reading calorie information when available. Reading calorie information was not related to race, income or education.

Researchers also found that women are more likely to look for calorie information, while those who frequent fast-food outlets more than three times a times a week are far less likely to look for calorie information than those going less than four times a month.

Those who said they did read calorie information were asked: ‘How often does this calorie information help you decide what to order?’ , with the response options: ‘Always’, ‘Most of the time’, ‘About half of the time’, ‘Sometimes’, ‘Never’ and ‘Don't Know’. 

Commenting independently on the study and its implications for labeling throughout the food industry, Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told FoodNavigator-USA: “Personally, I’m always struggling with trying to figure out what I’m consuming.

“It doesn’t mean you won’t make the decision to eat those calories; it’s a freedom issue, a rights issue. Now retailers will say it’s costly to do, but they change packaging labels all the time. It can be done in a way that is least costly. On the other hand, the market will speak for itself. In some cases, people want a donut or a piece of cake, they should know that’s what they’re doing. People say it’s obvious, but sometimes, it’s not so obvious to the consumer. And that’s the problem.”

See related article: Senate bill excluding supermarkets from menu labeling sparks debate over calorie disclosure 

Source​: the Journal of Public Health
"Use of calorie information at fast-food and chain restaurants among US adults, 2009"
November 2013, doi: 10.1093/pubmed/fdt109
Authors​: Holly Wethington, Behavioral Scientist, Leah M. Maynard, Epidemiologist, Christine Haltiwanger, Doctoral Candidate and Heidi M. Blanck, Chief, Obesity Prevention and Control Branch

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