Effect of point-of-purchase calorie labeling on restaurant and cafeteria food choices: A review of the literature
Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, 1300 South 2nd St Suite 300, Minneapolis, MN 55454, USA
International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2008, 5:51 doi:10.1186/1479-5868-5-51Published: 26 October 2008
Eating away from home has increased in prevalence among US adults and now comprises about 50% of food expenditures. Calorie labeling on chain restaurant menus is one specific policy that has been proposed to help consumers make better food choices at restaurants. The present review evaluates the available empirical literature on the effects of calorie information on food choices in restaurant and cafeteria settings.
Computer-assisted searches were conducted using the PUBMED database and the Google Scholar world wide web search engine to identify studies published in peer-review journals that evaluated calorie labeling of cafeteria or restaurant menu items. Studies that evaluated labeling only some menu items (e.g. low calorie foods only) were excluded from the review since the influence of selective labeling may be different from that which may be expected from comprehensive labeling.
Six studies were identified that met the selection criteria for this review. Results from five of these studies provide some evidence consistent with the hypothesis that calorie information may influence food choices in a cafeteria or restaurant setting. However, results from most of these studies suggest the effect may be weak or inconsistent. One study found no evidence of an effect of calorie labeling on food choices. Each of the studies had at least one major methodological shortcoming, pointing toward the need for better designed studies to more rigorously evaluate the influence of point-of-purchase calorie labeling on food choices.
More research is needed that meets minimum standards of methodological quality. Studies need to include behavioral outcomes such as food purchase and eating behaviors. Also, studies need to be implemented in realistic settings such as restaurants and cafeterias.