Sioux Falls Regional Extension Center News

Calorie Labeling Appearing on Restaurant Menus

By: Megan Sexton

You may have noticed something different the last time you dined out.  Many restaurants have begun listing nutrient information on their menus.  The change is legally required by federal law that was passed in early 2010.  The healthcare legislation requires that all chain restaurants with more than 20 locations must display the calories in regular menu items.   If this decision was made in 2010 why are we just seeing the changes now?  And furthermore, will listing the calorie content of items have an impact on what people purchase?

The legislation requiring that all large chain restaurants indicate calorie amounts faced very little resistance in 2010.  This was largely because the National Restaurant Association fully supported the legislation.  The National Restaurant Association commented that chain restaurants were having difficulty meeting various labeling laws across the states.  A national regulation on calorie labeling allows companies to stay compliant around the country and also saves them money.  After the federal law had passed the Food and Drug Administration set out to create this policy.  The policy has been purposed and is now undergoing its review period, after which the policy will be mandated.  Once the policy is mandated all restaurants with 20 locations or more must begin changing their menus and signs to meet the guidelines.  Many restaurants have begun changing their items already.

Now that calorie amounts are more commonplace on menus across the country many researchers have set out to review the impact.  The results so far have been mediocre at best.  Various restaurant types and locations have been studied; most indicate that the calorie amounts don’t influence many people.  This could be due to a number of issues.  Perhaps people are not used to the number and the meaning behind it, requiring more public education.  Some people surveyed said they were eating out because they wanted to indulge and already knew the items were high calorie.

A few studies have found people changing their orders because of the calorie amounts listed and commenting on how eye-opening the information was.  One of the greatest changes that has begun involves the restaurants themselves.  There have been several studies showing “low calorie” or “lite” options being added to the regular menu after the addition of the calorie labeling.  It seems that requiring the calories labels has motivated many restaurants to make improvements to their food options and/or provide additional items that meet the needs of their calorie conscious customers.

For more information, contact SDSU Megan Sexton at at the Sioux Falls Regional Extension Center, 605-782-3290,

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