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Quesadilla Study: Diners Ignore Calorie Counts

Customer ordering patterns were unchanged after a Mexican-style fast food chain posted the calorie counts of its offerings. Karen Hopkin reports

We Americans love our fast food. And a new study shows that a little thing like a nutrition label is not gonna stop us when we want a breakfast burrito.

In January 2009 King County, Washington imposed mandatory menu labeling on all restaurant chains in the region, which includes Seattle and its surrounds. Restaurants were asked to disclose nutrition information, including a calorie count, about every item on the menu.

Then, over the next year, researchers in conjunction with local public health officials monitored food purchases at the Taco Time chain of restaurants. And they found that nothing changed. The total number of sales and the average calories per order were the same, regardless of whether the restaurant labeled its menu. The study appears in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. [Eric Finkelstein et al, Mandatory Menu Labeling in One Fast-Food Chain in King County, Washington]

Now, it could be that Taco Time customers were already wise to the relative nutritiousness of their meals, because the restaurant was highlighting its healthier options with a little logo before the law took effect.

So maybe all we need is a happy, "healthy icon" to keep us from overdoing it. Because pointing out that a large order of cheddar fries has 700 calories was not food for thought.

—Karen Hopkin

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

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