DOES POSTING CALORIE CONTENT IN RESTAURANTS HELP US EAT HEALTHIER?

As communities and governments struggle with the obesity epidemic in search for solutions and prevention strategies, many ideas have emerged.  One of these is to raise consciousness through the posting of the calorie content and additional nutritional features of the foods that are being served.  The most widespread use of this experiment and increased nutritional mindfulness is occurring in New York.  Their heightened awareness of the calorie content of restaurant foods is provided with prominent postings.

But does it affect our eating behavior?  The early answer appears to be no, unfortunately.  In a study comparing youth in New York against a control group in neighboring New Jersey where conditions appear to be about the same, but the calorie content is not posted, there appears to be no significant difference in eating behavior.  Certainly most of us battling the obesity problem would like to find that posting the fact that a particular burger has an astronomical number of calories in it would lead kids and their parents to reduce consumption of the high calorie items and thus reduce the excess weight gain that is occurring.  Unfortunately, it’s not so simple.  While posting calorie content may be helpful and may raise some awareness, it is far from clear that people possess enough knowledge about what is a normal calorie intake or have clear connections from calorie intake to weight gain and poor health to really make a change in behavior happen.

My own view is that the posting of calorie content should not be abandoned just because we so far cannot demonstrate that it leads to behavior change.  Overall, driving increased consumer awareness of the calorie content of every day foods and snacks appears to be a valuable and necessary component of an obesity prevention strategy.  Additional campaigns to drive home the connection between excess calorie intake and obesity must also be undertaken.  Furthermore, campaigns to educate children and their parents about normal calorie intake and the negative consequences of excess calorie intake need to be ramped up massively if we are going to make a dent in the number one health problem in the country and one that appears to be largely preventable in young people if a great enough effort it exerted to providing the tools necessary for success.

We are clearly at the very beginning of what will need to be a monumental effort to prevent childhood obesity from becoming a healthcare tsunami.  Further research to help pinpoint what strategies are more successful and what strategies do lead to behavior change will be invaluable as the effort rolls forward.

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