Americans eat approximately one-third of their total calorie intake away from home. In March 2010, a national law, which is part of the Affordable Care Act, was passed mandating menu labeling rules. The rules apply to establishments which are part of a chain with 20 or more locations including restaurants, movie theaters, amusement parks, convenience stores, take-out food and ice cream shops. The establishments are required to post calorie counts and a statement on menus that additional written nutritional information is available.
Eating away from home typically impacts caloric intake and may in some cases double the amount of calories that are consumed in a given meal. When eating out, people eat less nutrient dense foods which are higher in saturated fat and calories and much lower in nutrients including fiber, vitamins and minerals. Eating out is also associated with obesity. The average American eats out six times per week. Given the consistency in which Americans eat out and the additional calories that are consumed when eating out, it is easy to understand that these behaviors may lead to excessive weight gain.
In an early study prior to implementation of the menu labeling, labeling was shown to have little effect on the consumer food choices. However, labeling has led to restaurants offering healthier alternatives. Many chains have started to offer smaller portions in an effort to offer lower calorie options. Since the law has been in effect, research has shown that those consumers that do utilize the posted information on average order approximately 100 calories fewer per meal.
Eating out has become the norm for many Americans. When eating out more calories are typically consumed. Menu labeling is a way in which consumers are able to make more informed choices.
By: Molly McBrayer, Clinical Manager, Roper St. Francis Bariatric and Metabolic Services