A research that published in the Journal of the Public Policy & Marketing investigated the lunch habits of about 450 employees at the health care company. Some of the people ordered off a menu with calorie counts. And others had the menu with (green, yellow, red) traffic light labels: in which green lights (indicating food with 140-400 calories), yellow lights (showing 400-550 calories), and there red lights (show 550-950 calories). And another group saw the both traffic lights and calories counts. A control group had menus with not any calorie labels.
They found that the calories counts, traffic lights, and the combination of two were all evenly effective at serving people order healthier and smarter. While labels were present, the people ordered their meals with about 10 percent fewer calories. The authors of the study wrote, “These findings suggest that consumers may benefit most from help in identifying relatively healthier choices but rely little on information about the exact caloric content of items.”
This study didn’t explore why menu explanation impacts people as much. But lead author Eric M. VanEpps, Ph.D., who has some theories about it: “Research shows we’re not very good at knowing the calories in items, and we often underestimate,” he further explains. “Labels may serve as a reminder to consider your health [while ordering], and they also help you better compare items.”
A chain restaurant with more than twenty locations is required by the FDA to list of calorie counts on their menus. Says VanEpps: “If they (become) uncomfortable with the fact that they have the meals with 2,000 calories, they may change what they offer.”
For the non-chain eateries, whether we see the calorie labels pop up on the menus is TBD. But in the meantime, you might be able to take things into your own hands. As nowadays some restaurants post all the nutrition information of their menu on their websites.
“As technology continues to advance, we have the ability to access calorie information in easier and quicker ways,” says VanEpps.