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Study Examines Effects of New Menu Labeling Standards

Last week we reported important news for improved nutrition in the U.S. — the implementation of new menu labeling standards.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration writes: “May 7, 2018 is the compliance date for the menu labeling final rule. On this date, consumers will have access to calorie and nutrition information in certain chain establishments covered by the rule. The menu labeling requirements apply to restaurants and similar retail food establishments that are part of a chain with 20 or more locations. In addition, they must be doing business under the same name and offering for sale substantially the same menu items.”

Needless to say, the news creates a new opportunity for well-run workplace wellness programs to help educate and engage employees around healthy eating.

Said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D: “We’re encouraged that so many consumers will benefit from the uniform calorie information on menus covered by the new law. We’ll continue to work with industry stakeholders to support their implementation. But it’s also important to note that the implementation of menu labeling is one part of a comprehensive tool box — that includes changes to the Nutrition Facts label and modernization of labeling claims — to help consumers make healthier choices for themselves and their families.”

But what does the research say?

As part of the FDA Commissioner’s statement, he notes a recent RAND Corporation study titled “Examining Consumer Responses to Calorie Information on Restaurant Menus in a Discrete Choice Experiment.”

The 2018 Rand study “looked at how the provision of calorie information on restaurant menus affects consumers. To gain insight on the consumer perspective, we designed an online experiment in which participants chose items from the menus of nine different restaurant settings, ranging from fast-food outlets to movie theaters. The calorie labels on those menus followed the requirements described in the FDA rule, and the survey also collected data on sociodemographic characteristics, attitudes toward food, and use of nutrition and calorie labels.”

It examined two areas:

  1. “Consumer Choice Experiment: The online consumer choice experiment sought to estimate consumer responses to labels that satisfy the FDA labeling rule for calorie information by testing whether consumers order fewer calories if they see a menu that provides calorie information and whether their choices can be associated with individual characteristics, including sociodemographics.”
  2. “Evaluation of Menu Changes over Time: The second objective of this study was to evaluate restaurant menu changes over time and by type of restaurant.”

As the study notes: “Providing calorie information on menus could allow consumers to better assess the nutritional value of restaurant foods and thereby improve their decisionmaking.”

Tomorrow, we examine the study results.