According to a new study, counting calories doesn’t necessarily cause people to make healthier food choices when it comes to eating at fast food restaurants. In fact, despite the fact that nutrition information, including the calories of meals at fast food restaurants was displayed, people did not choose the healthier meals.
Researchers with the Carnegie Mellon University found that simply posting the nutrition information of meals simply isn’t enough. The researchers say that fast food has contributed to a large amount of the calories taken in over time, and for individuals, obesity has been linked to frequently visiting fast food places.
In the study, over 1,000 participants had lunch at one of two fast food places in New York City. Both of the restaurants had nutrition information, including calorie counts, clearly listed. Participants where then split into three separate groups, with only one group receiving additional tips to ensure they stayed on target for daily calories. Another group was given information about the recommended calorie intake on a per meal basis, and the third group was given no extra information at all.
The researchers discovered that all of the groups consumed about the same amount of calories as the others, which led them to believe that adding calorie recommendations did nothing to the food choices of participants at all.
Many felt that adding labels to the menus would help to significantly reduce the number of obese people in the country but that simply does not seem to be the case. The author of the study, Julie Downs, associate research professor of social and decision sciences with the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences of CMU, has said that it doesn’t appear that the menu labeling approach to obesity is the likely solution to the problem. She says that it doesn’t look like it reduces consumption, even when consumers are given the information that many policymakers think will be the solution.
It is also possible that calorie counts on display are more confusing to consumers than anything else. This would make many people less likely to use the information. When nutrition information isn’t clearly presented, it can be difficult to understand quickly, and this can make people less likely to pay attention to the guidelines and opt for their favorite high calorie choice.
Many health care professionals feel that nutrition information, and calorie counts of foods in restaurants should be clearly displayed in a way that is easy to understand. Many say that it is also essential to begin educating people at an early age of healthy food choices.
In the mean time, the study may serve to underscore the obesity issue, and the need to find solutions to the problem that are easy for everyone to apply to their lives.