Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ask the Internet: Would Calorie Labeling Change What You Order?

Today's question is ripped from the headlines. (Woo hoo! Timeliness!)

Q: A recent study on calorie labeling in fast food restaurants showed that it didn't affect what kids ordered. Though the research was only conducted in New York City and Newark, the results still kinda surprised me.

Readers of CHG tend to be pretty aware of nutritional guidelines. Would calorie labeling affect what you ordered from a chain?

A: On the rare occasions I visit fast food restaurants (mostly on the road), definitely. Some of those salads, man - why not just have the burger?

Readers, how about you?

Want to ask the interweb a question? Post one in the comment section, or write to Cheaphealthygood@gmail.com. Then, tune in next Tuesday for an answer/several answers from the good people of the World Wide Net.

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30 comments:

Annie said...

I'm not surprised that most kids don't care about calorie counts. A lot of times, I think it's hard for kids to get what a certain number of calories actually means. They just know that fries are tasty. Parents, however, should know better and make better choices for their kids.

Nutritional labeling definitely affects my choices. Like you said,a lot of times the salad ends up being worse than the burger. But I also like when you can adjust your choice--say, swap out the creamy dressing and hold high-calorie extras. Even if it's not the ideal salad, you're at least getting extra veggies.

Jen @ Dear Mommy Brain said...

I think it would definitely effect my choices. It would make it much more difficult for me to ignore the negative impact of consuming certain foods. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. I do love me some Nachos Bell Grande...

jamie said...

Yes, I am a label fanatic.

Eyebrows McGee said...

Sometimes. Sometimes I go because I actually want Burger X as a special treat, and I'm getting Burger X. But if I'm traveling and just trying to have a quick meal, I definitely look at the nutritional info and use it to help me pick something a little healthier.

Also, I have a pretty good idea what's better and worse for ME at fast food places from among the types of things I like to eat, but now that I have kids I will find it very helpful to have it right in front of me to help me pick for THEM, since they'll like different foods than I will and kid meals are often different sizes and so on.

ilikecoffee said...

I agree with Annie. Do most kids even know what calories are and what they mean?
Personally, I almost always check nutrition info at restaurants before we go. (It's also now an app on my droid that i have yet to use...) It would be nice to have it posted at the restaurant so I wouldn't have to do that extra step myself. Would it necessarily change what I order? Maybe. It would definitely determine whether I "deserved" dessert or not. :)

I think it would be beneficial for people like my inlaws who think they're on a diet when they order the caeser salad (though more nutritional education would also be a huge benefit to them).

Kaycie Christine said...

My husband and I are on a pretty strict diet. If we know we're going to be going out to a restaurant, we ALWAYS look online for the nutritional facts for each food item so we know what we are going to get. If these nutritional facts aren't provided, we don't go. So it definitely changes what I order!

Jillian said...

Honestly? We rarely go to fast food restaurants (I mean, really, we can eat so much better for the exact same price at home), and if I DO go, it's because I really want X, Y, or Z...and I'm not going to care what's in it. To me, fast food is not sustenance. It's a treat--but one that I choose to eat less and less, as the last time I ordered that burger that sounded sooo good, it didn't taste like what I was imagining. I was sorely disappointed.

Jan said...

I would like to have the sugar g content in big numbers on the front of every of food package including fast food. People should be shocked at how much sugar we are consuming! I'm glad that cereal does it now.

Sara said...

The new labeling does affect my choices, but that doesn't mean I'm never going to splurge! :)

lauramich said...

Well, if I know I'm going to a restaurant, I always do my best to look up the menu ahead of time and get a sense of what I'm going to order. If it's a chain restaurant that makes calorie/nutrition info available, I'll absolutely factor that into my decision. In fact, when a chain website has a "calculator" available that allows users to customize an order (e.g., see how the nutrition profile changes when you hold the cheese, choose broccoli instead of fries on the side), I can play with those for waaay too long.

And I agree with @Annie that kids probably lack the context to make decisions based on calorie info. I know that I'm aiming for 1800–2000 calories/day, so I understand how choosing the 800-calorie meal versus the 500-calorie meal will affect my options for the rest of the day (i.e., I may have to skip a snack or cut back on dinner). But I'm maintaining a significant weight loss (100+ pounds) and have been doing this for over three years. Your average kid? Hasn't had to think about it.

Adam said...

Wouldn't change my behavior at all. On the exceedingly rare occasions when I eat fast food, I know from the start that I'm in for a few days' worth of calories; might as well eat what I want.

Susan said...

I definitely pay attention to calorie counts/nutrition info, and I try not to eat out much anyway. When I do, it's a special occasion and I'd really rather NOT see the nutrition info since it ruins the night for me.
The part of nutrition labeling that I do think is extremely beneficial is that, now that places are being required to post the nutrition facts publicly, they are realizing that they can change some of that stuff and creating healthier options. More healthy options and less trans-fats is a change I can get behind!

Darcy@SomewhatMuddledMusings. said...

The in-my-face guilt factor alone would help me order differently if I could see the calorie count while I oder.

Nicole said...

Posted calorie counts definitely effect my choices, but I am a calorie counter anyway, so that's not a surprise.

I am not surprised CHILDREN don't care about calories (duh) and I would not really be surprised if many parents did not change the order for their kids as well. I think a lot of adults are not very aware of calories (ie how many a child should consume) but I also think that a lot of people still subconsciously feel that weight is a vanity issue vs a health issue and that children should not be put on 'diets.'

Mandi said...

Posted nutritional info doesn't change my order anywhere - fast food or sit-down restaurant. I can pretty much tell which things are healthy on a menu and which aren't.

Elizabeth said...

I'm honestly not sure how much it would effect my ordering. I have a pretty good idea of what the calorie load is for the crappy fast food that I do occasionally eat, so I feel like I kind of already know what I'm getting into when I choose to go order it. However, if I was going to try to be good and get the salad and then realized the delightful chicken sandwich was going to be as many calories...then...definitely the sandwich.

Norma Iris Vidal said...

Kids are not interested in calories for fast food, for now. I still think it is important for fast food to list calories. I know it makes a difference for me, but I'm a nutritionist. I'm not saying I always make a healthy choice. For example at McD's I skip the fries but you better give me that sundae, lol! I usually choose grilled chicken in the snack wraps or salads. I also go with the light dressing and I only drink water. I just compromise.

Sally said...

I don't pay attention to nutrition labels at restaurants. I eat out once, sometimes twice, a month and I don't think it makes that much difference in the big picture. I usually don't eat at fast/casual chains, but if I do, I have something specific in mind that I want and I have it.

If I ate out more regularly I might pay attention. But then, I'm rarely able to finish a meal at a restaurant, so I wouldn't worry too much.

Anna N said...

I'm not surprised. Posted calorie counts do affect my choices, but (because I don't go to fast food places that often) I only see calorie counts in situations where I don't already have a well-established habit. I don't think posted calorie counts are a very effective tool for change for a few reasons:

1. If you already have a well-established habit of ordering a particular thing, it's easier to follow habit and ignore the calorie counts.

2. Calorie counts are complex. In order to translate them into a decision, you need to know how many calories you should be eating per day, and how many per meal. You have to do math. Plus there's no clear-cut instruction to follow, like "don't eat more than 500 calories per meal" or "don't eat meat." If there's no clear instruction, there's room for confusion about how many calories is too much, and also room for rationalizing, like "I'm going to eat salad for dinner, so I can eat 800 calories now." I believe people, including kids, are smart enough to understand calorie counts, but unless you're already motivated to pay attention to them (and it sounds like many commenters here are), they're not going to be very compelling.

3. Posting calorie counts doesn't ensure that there are tasty, filling lower-calorie options. At a fast-food place, I'm probably looking for something that will keep me from getting hungry and cranky for the next 3 hours of driving, and something that's tasty enough, or at least tolerable enough, that I will actually eat it. If there's nothing OK-tasting and filling *and* healthy, I'm going to sacrifice the long-term "healthy" goal in favor of the short-term "staving off a three-hour funk of hungry crankiness" goal.

Jenna said...

Honestly?

No, not really. If I'm eating out (an extremely rare treat for me - being diagnosed with celiac and having other food allergies did wonders for my pant size. I only eat out maybe 4 times a year now.) I'm eating out to enjoy: good food I don't often make/get, and the company and act of hanging out with friends and loved ones at a table. Those times? I don't give a hang about the calories, not a jot about the fat/salt/sugar.

It's a treat. I treat it as such. To keep from getting ill, I already have to be hyper-aware at times about labels - for a treat, long as it's safe for me, I refuse to care about the numbers.

But if you eat out a lot, yeah, I can maybe see it being a thing.

Owlhaven said...

Just in the last year I've begun to look at calorie counts in restaurants. It absolutely does affect my choices.

Mary

Autumn said...

Does it surprise me that it doesn't change things for kids, no. Does it affect me, sometimes.

We were at panera a couple of weeks ago and they have the calorie counts up on the menu on the wall. I knew I wanted a sandwich not a salad, so it at least let me know how "bad" my choice was calorically. But generally I don't eat out very often, so view it as a treat and pretty much get what I want, with an emphasis on ordering something I would have a hard time making at home

Ann said...

Calorie labeling on a Hard Rock Cafe menu changed my ordering last summer. I ended up with a pork chop instead of the salad I first considered after reading the numbers. I do not even understand how they're getting all those calories and fat in those dishes, but it sure explains whey eating out is worse nutritionally.
By the way, the group at the next table didn't seem phased at all. They had appetizers and desserts, on top of the nightmarishly caloric entrees! Maybe the study is right.

Shawn Michael Messner said...

Although I find the nutritional facts to be an interesting read, they very rarely change what I order. If I go out for fast food or if it's the only available option at the time being, I know I am in for some relatively unhealthy foods. I do like the idea of "empowering the consumer" with knowledge about the product, however, if someone doesn't already know McDonald's is unhealthy, posting nutritional data will most likely do nothing. My rule of thumb is that if it's from a fast food restaurant, it's probably unhealthy. And yes, that ranch in your salad ruined the purpose of a salad.

Amanda on Maui said...

If I ate out at fast food restaurants often I would definitely use the calorie listing, but since I don't eat out much I wouldn't think too much on it.

Kyra S. said...

Panera already puts calories next to menu choices. And when I saw that the mocha I was going to order was a whopping 400 calories, I opted for a regular coffee instead. I wish more restaurants would do this(especially starbucks!). It would keep me honest to be constantly confronted with how many calories I am about to consume.

Edward Antrobus said...

It doesn't have a very large effect on my choices. If you look closely at the Subway cups, a footlong turkey sub with cheese has more calories than a Big Mac. You just have to realize that food has calories and fast food (even "healthy" fast food) has more than than slow food.

Sushi Restaurants said...

I'm not to sure calorie counts are going to effect people decision on what to order. When eating out, most people are going to get what sounds best to them.

Dorothy said...

I'm originally from Albany county, NY, but I go to college in Ohio. In Albany county, they recently started making chain restaurants post calories. I find it extremely helpful, and I definitely do make different choices in Albany compared to Ohio. I even miss calorie counts when I come back!

Christian Beck said...

Yea absolutely. 3 "sorta" fast food places do where I have actually experienced this: Panera, High Tech Burrito and Subway. At all 3 places, the labeled calories affected my choice. What's more is that I'm pretty knowledgeable with food anyway and could've told you which ones were worse. But seeing the 950 calorie sandwich next to 450 made it impossible to ignore.

I'm curious about the "kids" part of this study. Why not adults? Kids don't know any better or really even care.