More proof consumers like to be informed: New research reveals calorie counts on menus influence decisions for patrons and management

A comprehensive study has delved into the impact of displaying calorie figures in menus and found that it encourages consumers to make lower calorie choices and for food retailers to provide lower calorie options.

According to Science Daily online, the research supports and confirms the labeling move made in Australia – calorie or kilojoule information to be made available to the public via menus at fast-food outlets and restaurant chains. Disclosing kilojoule information in menus is mandatory in Australia for food outlets and restaurant chains at more than 50 stores nationwide.

On the other hand, the practice of displaying calorie figures has proved to be controversial in the U.S. Labeling laws were first mandated in the 2010 Affordable Care Act, and are due to be implemented in the U.S. in May 2018.

Despite this, there are already suggestions that they will be postponed or watered-down, as food industry groups constantly delay and push back, in fear of the cost of implementing the laws. (Related: New York may require restaurants to disclose calorie content of food products.)

The researchers collated 186 studies on how displaying calories in menus affects consumers and 41 studies on food retailers.

The findings revealed that displaying calorie information encouraged consumers to cut their calorie intake to 27 calories (112 kilojoules) per meal and food retailers to 15 calories (62 kilojoules) per menu item.

Lead researcher Dr. Natalina Zlatevska, from the Marketing Discipline Group at UTS Business School, said the calorie reduction can make a real difference on those who eat out regularly, but it will not mean much for those who eat out once a year.

The findings also revealed that the impact was greater seen in women, with a 60 calorie (251 kilojoules) reduction per meal. The reduction was higher still with those who are overweight, at 83 calories (347 kilojoules).

“With more and more food dollars spent on meals purchased outside the home, anything we can do to educate consumers, and make them a bit more aware of their choices is a good start,” according to Zlatevska.

Obesity is a key factor in the development of chronic and fatal diseases such as type-2 diabetes and heart disease, which is a leading cause of premature deaths in the U.S., U.K. and Australia.

The researchers stressed the significance of the fact that food retailers are encouraged to adjust the choices they offer in the menu when required to disclose calorie information.

“In the same way that corporate or financial disclosure changes behaviour, here we see the disclosure effect changing the food environment,” Zlatevska said.

“We know that retailers are adjusting so there is the possibility of a combined effect. That is where I think bigger change will probably happen. All these incremental changes add up, it is cumulative.”

Food labeling in Australia/New Zealand

The Food Standards Australia New Zealand has set food labeling standards which are enforced by Australian states, and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) in New Zealand. features a run-down of the range of labeling topics which also include fish names, food allergies and intolerance, as well as nutrition and health claims.

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