Menu Symbols Help Cut Calories


Combining calorie counts with traffic-light symbols on restaurant menus may be more effective at reducing calorie intake than the numbers alone, a new study reports. Researchers tested three different lunch menus at a full-service restaurant: a control with no calorie data, a menu with calorie counts for all dishes, and one with calories plus red, yellow or green symbols indicat-ing 800-plus calories, 400-800 calories and under-400 calories, respectively. Patrons given the traffic-light menus consumed 114 fewer entre calories than those seeing only calorie numbers and 129 fewer than the control group. Those in the numbers-only group actually ordered more total calories-when side dishes and desserts were factored in-than the control group. Researchers noted, This suggests diners who received calorie infor-mation [but not the accompanying symbol] may be experiencing a licensing effect such that ordering a lower-calorie entre gave a diner license to order an extra side item or dessert.… If this is the case, that may be an unintended consequence of any labeling leg-islation. (For more on this licensing effect, see this issues Special Report.) The findings were published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.


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