Does posting fast food calories make a difference?

November 1, 2013

Many youngsters, particularly those who are obese, use the calorie information that often is available at fast food and chain restaurants to determine what menu items to order.

 

Many youngsters, particularly those who are obese, use the calorie information that often is available at fast food and chain restaurants to determine what menu items to order. This was the promising finding of a survey of 721 children and adolescents aged from 9 to 18 years who eat at these types of restaurants and are aware of available calorie information.

Of those who reported eating at fast food/chain restaurants, 65.6% indicated they went no more than once a week, and 34.4% said 2 or more times a week. Asked about how often they use calorie information when it is available during these visits, 42.4% responded “always,” “most of the time,” or “sometimes,” whereas 57.6% said they “never” use this information in deciding what to order. Girls were 80% more likely than boys to report using calorie information, and obese youngsters were about 70% more likely to use it than their healthy-weight peers. Also, those from families with an annual income from $40,000 to $60,000 were 70% more likely to use calorie information than those who lived in a household with a higher annual income. Finally, youngsters who ate at a fast food/chain restaurant twice a week or more were 50% less likely to report using calorie information than those who ate at these types of restaurants no more than once a week (Wethington H, et al. J Public Health. 2013;35[3]:354-360).

COMMENTARY  One provision of health care reform, as mandated by the Affordable Care Act, is that restaurant chains with more than 20 outlets must post calorie counts for their menu items. In this study, 19% of 9- to 18-year-olds who dined at fast food restaurants never noticed the postings. Of those who noticed the signs, however, more than 40% used the information. If this finding is replicated across all the fast food restaurants in the country, the impact could be significant. And if fast food companies use their marketing skills to publicize calorie information, the remaining 19% will certainly notice the postings. -MICHAEL BURKE, MD

 

MS FREEDMAN is a freelance medical editor and writer in New Jersey. DR BURKE, section editor for Journal Club, is chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at Saint Agnes Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland. He is a contributing editor for Contemporary Pediatrics. The editors have nothing to disclose in regard to affiliations with or financial interests in any organizations that may have an interest in any part of this article.