A new study shows that restaurants are forced to provide nutritional information and calories on all menus to produce healthier and lower-calorie meals.
From April 2019, the UK Government will require calorie labels to be displayed in pubs, restaurants, and cafes with over 250 staff.
Since 2018, a similar federal policy is in effect for the US. All chain restaurants with over 20 locations must display calories information.
To get a better idea of the impact of calorie requirements on menus, experts from the Harvard T.H. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health examined menus from US chains restaurants to determine the calories before and after they were changed.
The policy encouraged retailers to include lower-calorie options on their menus, and they found items that were on the menu after the rule was changed 113 calories less on average.
From April 2019, the UK Government will require calorie labels to be posted in pubs, restaurants, and cafes across England. Image from stock
While the Calorie Menu Labelling Rule was established as part the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, it wasn’t federally implemented until May 2018.
It was intended to motivate customers to buy lower-calorie food and to prompt retailers to provide lower-calorie alternatives.
Evaluations of this policy focus on changes in consumers’ behaviour rather than restaurant behavior. They found that average meal at these places had 4 to 6 percent fewer calories.
They used data from the MenuStat database to examine menus at some of America’s largest chains restaurants. This information was collected every year between 2012 and 2019.
There were 35,354 menu items sold at 59 large chain restaurants in the US during this period, the experts explained.
They looked at the changes in the calorie contents of menu items from before to after and decided to add the information to the menus.
After labelling the restaurants, the mean calorie contents of the whole menu did not change among the 59 that were included in the study.
Items introduced new after labelling contained a higher average calorie count than items before the labelling regulations.
While this may vary from restaurant to restaurant, on average new meals had 113 calories less after May 2018 than the previous menus.
The researchers stated that the new menu items account for approximately 1/5th of all items on any given year. They could be used to reduce calories consumed or purchased by customers who have previously purchased higher-calorie items.
The area in which new items were added to drinks in cafes and restaurants was also large. There was a drop in calories for those added in 2018 compared with before.
However, that didn’t apply to coffee shops, which actually saw average calories increase by about 15 and calories on new items after 2018 an average of 19 higher than items added before 2018.
Researchers found that while the calorie count of all newly introduced foods decreased after labels were applied, it increased by 180 calories at fast-casual restaurants.
Since 2018, a similar federal policy in the US has been in effect. All chain restaurants that have more than 20 locations must display calories information. Image from stock
“Continued monitoring is warranted of fast-casual restaurants, since these chains make up the bulk of most restaurants in many US states.
It was suggested by the team that there has not been any significant change in total item calories. This suggests that it may take time for labels to adjust in fast food restaurants and chains.
The rules, they said, “ultimately might be not reduce the consumption of higher-calorie food at restaurants in the absence or other intervention.”
“Policymakers could consider additional intervention that targets both supply and demand such as warning labels and healthy default options. They can also reduce portion sizes and tax sweetened beverages.
The results were published in JAMA Network Open.