Earlier this week, McDonald’s decided it would be among the first to take a bullet and announce the roll out of new menus listing calorie counts. Mickey D’s tried to spin the announcement into a public relations victory — we’re transparent now, America! you’re still fat! — even though, as Marion Nestle rightly pointed out, the Affordable Care Act will eventually require all restaurant chains to print such menus.
McDonald’s menus will hit restaurants next week, but here’s the thing: It would appear that, despite all their lobbying against the idea, major chains have little to fear from listing calorie counts. The public eats virtually the same amount of calories even when you give them the bad news beforehand.
Sarah Kliff over on the Wonkblog reviewed some of the recent studies that confirm this trend. Here’s a sample from Kliff’s item:
What does this mean for the Affordable Care Act? Earlier this year, a team of University of Minnesota researchers tackled that exact question.
They outfitted two restaurants with calorie-listing, mimicking what would happen when the Affordable Care Act regulation takes effect, albeit at a smaller level. While they saw a small decline at the very start of the intervention, “by the end of the study there was no difference.”
Just as interesting, some recent research reached my inbox from the NPD Group about consumer behaviors when eating out. Here are two relevant points from NPD’s market research.
* “Only nine percent of consumers are looking to eat healthfully when they dine out, according to NPD’s CREST service, which continually tracks how consumers use restaurants. NPD analysis: When consumers eat out, they want to indulge and leave concerns about which foods are low-fat, low-calorie and low-sodium at home. And in tough economic times, price concerns outweigh health concerns when it comes to eating out.”
* “NPD conducted a menu labeling test among adults ages 18 and older. Panelists were asked to indicate items they would order from two versions of a typical fast-food hamburger restaurant menu. Their first exposure was to a typical menu board without calorie information. Their second exposure was to the same menu board, but with calorie counts shown alongside the price of each item. The before-and-after ordering patterns were then compared.
“After viewing the menu with the calories posted, consumers ordered items that amounted to fewer calories, but the difference in calories was relatively small. The average number of calories ordered when calories were posted was 901, compared to 1,021 when calories were not posted.”