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Study: After menu labeling, healthier restaurant offerings

Calorie labels at restaurants may not change how people eat, but they do impact what items restaurants offer.

That's the takeaway from a new research out of Seattle, which looked at a new city law that requires chain restaurants to post nutritional information next to each menu item. The health law takes the menu labeling provision national, requiring all chains with 20 or more locations to post information.

Eighteen months after the Seattle law started, the caloric content start to drop. It fell by an average of 7 percent at sit-down restaurants, while the declines were smaller at fast food establishments. Notably, pizza restaurants were the only category of restaurants that showed no effect.

What accounted for the changes? Researchers chalk it up to two main factors: Portion sizes started getting smaller, and restaurants began substituting in lower-calorie ingredients.

That doesn't mean that people necessarily end up eating healthier: Research on how menu labels effect food consumption is mixed, with multiple studies finding such requirements have little to no impact.