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Calories on menus 'make people order and eat less food'

Calorie counters on menus caused a 37% drop in calories consumed, according to an ESRI study.

Image: Shutterstock/gpointstudio

CALORIE COUNTS ON restaurant menus makes people more likely to take healthier meal choices, according to a new study. 

Research conducted by the Economic & Social Research Institute, published today, found that people ordered and ate less when calorie labels were put on menus. 

In contrast to the concerns of restaurant owners, the study found that calorie labels did not make people less likely to enjoy their meal. 

The restaurant industry has long opposed plans to put calories on menus. In February, Minister for Health Simon Harris floated plans to force businesses to display the calorie count of the food they serve. 

It’s an idea that has recurred in recent years and plans are currently in place to introduce legislation on the issue by the end of the year. 

The study

The effect of calorie information on restaurant-goers depended on where the information was placed on menus. 

The study found that the largest impact was found when calorie labels were displayed just to the right of the price on the menu, in the same font and size – this led to a 19% drop in the calories ordered and a 37% reduction in the calories eaten. 

Dr Deirdre Robertson, member of the ESRI’s Behavioural Research Unit, said the study provided important new insights on the impact of calorie information. 

“Opinions about calorie posting differ and can be strongly held, so it is important to provide objective evidence about the likely impact,” she said. 

“Our results show not only that calorie posting changes behaviour, but also that seemingly small changes to the format influence how well people understand and respond to the information,” she added. 

Funded by the Irish Department of Health, the study involved a representative sample of people who were given different lunch menus at random. 

The research also made use of an infrared camera, which tracked people’s eye movements as they read the menu. 

Using the camera, researchers were able to find that people given a menu with calorie labels placed to the right of the price looked more at the labels. 

People were also more likely to remember how many calories were in their lunch. 

“Our results show not only that calorie posting changes behaviour, but also that seemingly small changes to the format influence how well people understand and respond to the information,” Robertson said. 

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