The promise of mandating nutritional information on restaurant menus was that it would lead people to make healthier choices, and thus help tame obesity. Turns out it doesn't impact our eating habits, according to a study by researchers at Ghent University in Belgium.
Menu labels on cafeteria food—highlighting the good and the bad of various meal options—make no difference in college students' meal choices, a new study concludes.
The results add to evidence that, despite laws in some cities mandating calorie counts on fast-food menus, nutritional information makes little difference to people when they are eating out.
Dr. Lisa Harnack, a professor at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis who was not involved in this study, said she was not surprised by the results.
"In studies, when you ask people how important nutrition is to them when they're ordering food from a restaurant menu, it's far less important than a food price or taste. It's just not a consideration," Harnack told Reuters Health.
For menu labeling to truly have an impact, another intervention would be necessary.
Dr. Gail Kaye, the nutrition program director at Ohio State University, told Reuters Health that menu labels might still work to encourage healthier eating—it's just that they need to be paired with a healthier-leaning menu.
"If [students] had more healthy options there, they might have chosen them," said Kaye.
Indeed they might have. But there's no reason a menu-labeling law coupled with offering healthier food (rather than simply offering healthier food) is needed to test that hypothesis.
While this is just one study, it supports what previous studies have found. And it's important to note the increasing lack of wiggle facing room menu-labeling proponents. Menu labeling "make[s] no difference." Nutrition is "just not a consideration."
Lots of Reason menu-labeling links here.
Bonus: Last July 4, according to nutrition data here, hot-dog eating champion Joey Chestnut ate more than 16,000 calories of Nathan's hot dogs in 10 minutes.
Baylen Linnekin is a lawyer and the executive director of Keep Food Legal, a nonprofit that promotes culinary freedom, the idea that people should be free to make and consume whatever commestibles they prefer. For more information and to join or donate, go here now.
Start your day with Reason. Get a daily brief of the most important stories and trends every weekday morning when you subscribe to Reason Roundup.