Expert Commentary

Nutrition menu labels may lead to lower-calorie children’s restaurant meals

2010 study looking at the potential effects on children's diet of putting nutrition information on fast food items.

The goal of the U.S. Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 was to enable the public make better-informed dietary choices through improved labeling on packaged foods.  A requirement of 2010 Affordable Health Care Act extends the concept to chain restaurants, requiring them to disclose similar information on the food they sell.

A 2010 paper by scholars from the Seattle Children’s Research Institute and the University of Washington, “Nutrition Menu Labeling May Lead to Lower-Calorie Restaurant Meal Choices for Children,” looks at the law’s potential effects on parents’ and childrens’ food choices.

The authors approached this question by conducting a randomized controlled trial of parents’ food choices for their children. The study finds that, on average:

  • Parents who viewed menus with nutrition information ordered food with 102 fewer calories for their children, compared with parents who viewed menus without the information.
  • After controlling for parents’ characteristics, their frequency of eating fast food and the physical characteristics of the children, parents who viewed menus with nutrition information ordered food with 20% fewer calories.
  • Parents of both groups do not choose food differently for themselves.

The authors conclude by discussing some of the limitations of the study such as the validity of self-reported health information and the extent to which the sample is representative of the general population.  Despite these concerns, this result provides additional support for laws that institute menu labeling standards and has implications of future policy to address the rise of obesity.

Tags: children, nutrition, obesity, Obamacare

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