Choosing the Healthier Option... Or Not

Displaying nutrition facts on fast food menus might not change consumers' food-purchasing behavior

(RxWiki News) Various US cities are trying to improve the health of their citizens by focusing on fast food chains. An effort in King County, WA attempted to change consumer behavior by requiring fast food restaurants to display nutrition facts on their menus.

Despite that effort, consumers did not alter their behavior.

As rates of obesity continue to climb to historic levels, fast food chains are often to blame, especially when it comes to childhood obesity. The city of San Francisco recently attempted a ban on toys in children's meals unless the meals met a set of nutritional requirements.

Researchers from Duke-National University of Singapore (NUS) Graduate Medical School and the department of public health of Seattle & King County assessed the impact of a regulation that required all King County restaurant chains with at least 15 locations to make known a meal's calorie information at the point of purchase.

The researchers found that more than a year after the law went into effect, consumers' purchasing behavior was no different at Taco Time restaurants affected by the regulation than at Taco Time restaurants that were not required to disclose nutrition facts.

Lead author Eric Finkelstein, Ph.D., associate professor of health services at Duke-NUS, says he and his colleagues were surprised by the results. They had expected slight behavioral differences, but they instead found it difficult to pinpoint even minute changes in behavior. However, Finkelstein acknowledges that the absence of behavioral change might be due to Taco Time's practice of already identifying healthier options as "Healthy Highlights."

Finkelstein believes that displaying detailed nutrition facts has little to no effect on behavior, but the use of a simple logo that identifies healthier options might be all that it takes to help consumers make healthier choices.

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Review Date: 
January 17, 2011