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October 27, 2009

NYC's Calorie Labeling Law DOES Work. Really.

Having posted on a study that showed NYC's fast-food calorie labeling law didn't have much effect on low-income consumers, I feel obligated to report on a new study by the NYC Department of Health that in fact showed a modest effect on consumer behavior in the broader population (via the LA Times):
The mean number of calories purchased per customer decreased at nine of 13 fast-food or coffee chains, according to a study presented today by researchers from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

...The study found that the decreases were statistically significant at four of the chains: McDonald's, KFC, Au Bon Pain and Starbucks. People purchased more at four other chains, but the study's authors said there was only one chain -- Subway -- where the increase was statistically significant.

Paying attention seems to be the biggest factor in whether people choose less caloric offerings. Customers who said they saw and acted on posted calorie information purchased 106 fewer calories than those who did not notice or did not use the information.

The city agency surveyed more than 10,000 customers at 275 locations of 13 different fast-food and coffee chains throughout the city in the spring of 2007 and over 12,000 in 2009, nearly a year after the requirements began.

The Subway outlier was likely a result of a "recession-inspired" marketing promotion that cut prices on larger sandwiches -- though I do wonder if these larger Subway sandwiches are always eaten all at once. Unlike just about every other fast-food product which really tastes lousy leftover, half a deli sandwich can be saved for later. But I digress.

The point is that calorie labeling did get the median numbers down by 100 calories -- which is a bit of a magic number for nutritionists. And calorie labeling may be forcing some chains to reformulate their offerings somewhat. So, no magic bullet for sure, but not something to be abandoned either.

Photo by Ken Yourdon used under a CC license

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