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NewsBites June 2013 Issue

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 entrée 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 entrée 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 issue’s Special Report.) The findings were published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.

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