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The Los Angeles Times reports on research done in Washington State about the effectiveness of restaurant menu labeling of fat and calorie counts in helping people make more nutritious choices.

According to the story, “Six full-service, casual restaurants in Pierce County, Wash., participated in the study, adding nutritional information to their menus for a month. Researchers from the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department noted what diners ordered for a month before the labeling and a month after to see if listing calories, fat, sodium and carbohydrates made any difference in what patrons ordered for lunch and dinner entrees. During the labeling period, diners were also given a brief questionnaire asking if they noticed the nutritional information, how well they understood the numbers and if they ordered differently because of the information.”

Some 16,000 people participated in the study, which revealed that “71% of patrons noticed the nutritional information, and of those 80% looked at the key to understand what the numbers meant. The vast majority (96%) who looked at the key felt they understood it well enough to point out more healthful items. But only 59% of those who saw and comprehended the information made a decision based on it.

“Also, only 20% of diners chose a lower calorie entree because of the nutritional information. Researchers calculated that for every 100 entrees purchased when nutritional labeling was in place, only 20 people ordered ones lower in calories. To account for the decrease of 1,500 calories total, each of those people ordered about 75 fewer calories than before menu labeling appeared.”

In other words, the answer to the question - do people change their eating habits based on calorie and fat counts listed on restaurant menus? - is a resounding “sometimes” and “maybe.”
KC's View:
All I know is that calorie count info in restaurants has an enormous impact on what I order. Sometimes I hate the knowledge, because, as well all know, ignorance can be bliss. And sometimes I ignore it because I have a craving (and then I feel guilty about the indulgence). But I love having the information available.