Issues

Study: Mandatory Calorie Labeling Doesn’t Lower Calorie Intake

Calorie intake slightly increases after mandate

A kid enjoying a delicious burger / AP

A new study found that customers did not lower their calorie intakes at fast food restaurants in the wake of the mandatory calorie labeling scheme imposed during Michael Bloomberg's tenure as mayor of New York City.

The study, published in the November issue of Health Affairs Journal, analyzed fast food receipts from shortly after the policy went into place in 2008 and then again in 2014.

It found that the calories purchased actually increased in that timeframe.

"Menu labeling, in particular at fast-food restaurants, will not on its own lead to any lasting reductions in calories consumed," Brian Elbel, the study's author, told Politico of the findings. "We found no consistent change in the nutritional content of foods and beverages purchased or in how often respondents purchased fast food."

The study found that fast food customers bought between 804 and 839 calories per meal in 2014 while they had only purchased 783 calories per meal in 2008. The researchers said the difference in calories was not statistically significant. However, it does not represent the drop in calorie consumption New York politicians had promised when they instituted the mandate.

The researchers said the limited effect of the mandatory labeling must be acknowledged.

"It must be recognized that only a subset of consumers report finding this information useful, and thus far its success in altering choice at a population level is unproven," the study's conclusion said. "Therefore, other options must be considered as ways to combat obesity."

The calorie labeling mandate New York instituted in 2008 was used as a model for the national mandate incorporated in the Affordable Care Act. The effectiveness of the national mandate has not yet been studied.