Those Calorie Counts on Fast-Food Menus? They Aren't Working. Six years after New York City's mandate that calories be listed at chain restaurants, researchers have found that these labels, on their own, do not reduce the overall number of calories ordered.

By Laura Entis

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Monica Dipres

That our national food consumption patterns are in need of a dramatic overhaul is indisputable – almost 17 percent of children and 35 percent of U.S. adults are obese, percentages that are only rising. How to go about enacting this much-needed change, however? That's where the uncertainty comes in.

To date, few public policies have been enacted in an effort to change our national eating habits. One notable exception is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's announcement that food outlets with more than 20 locations must list calorie counts on their menus by December 2016.

But does this approach actually lead consumers to make healthier choices? A new study, conducted by researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center, serves up the grim conclusion that calorie labels, on their own, do not reduce the overall number of calories ordered.

Related: FDA Extends Deadlines for Chain Restaurant to Add Calorie Counts to Menus

The study, published today, compared itemized orders from fast-food chains in New York City -- which, in 2008, became the first jurisdiction that required chains with more than 15 locations to post calorie labels on menus – with orders at fast-food chains in New Jersey (where there are no calorie labels on menus) in 2008 and then again at various points in 2013 and 2014. As such, it's the first long-term analysis of the effects of menu labeling in the United States.

In 2008, directly after calorie information appeared on menu, 51 percent of polled fast-food diners in New York City said they noticed calorie information and 12 percent said they used it to order fewer calories, versus 14 percent and 2 percent of New Jersey fast-food diners.

Despite this, the average number of calories per order remained the same. According to the study, there was "no consistent change in the nutritional content of foods and beverages purchased or in how often respondents purchased fast food." What's more, between 2008 and 2013-2014 the average number of calories purchased increased for diners in both New York City and New Jersey.

Earlier studies have suggested the effects of calorie-labeling at fast-food restaurants are minor at best, but there was a hope that the long-term impact would be more substantial. "We did not find that to be the case," the authors wrote.

Related: The 9 Highest Calorie Meals from Your Favorite Chain Restaurants

While this is a blow to the idea that nationwide calorie menu requirements will dramatically alter the way America eats, it doesn't necessarily mean the policy is useless: perhaps, as the authors speculate, it may be more effective in sit-down restaurants where dining expectations are different, or for specific groups of particularly health-concious diners. "We will have to wait and see, while continuing to monitor and analyze the policy's impact," Brian Elbel, the study's senior investigator, said in a statement.

Still, it's disheartening news -- one that demands the consideration and implementation of additional strategies if obesity rates are ever to significantly fall. Previous research suggests more dramatic label modifications – such as using a stop sign for very unhealthy foods, listing the amount of exercise required to burn off each menu item or adding context by placing calorie counts next to the recommended number of calories in one meal – could be effective at changing consumer behavior.

Sadly, as the authors rightly note, "the likelihood of their being adopted at a policy level is limited."

Related: U.S. Nutrition Labels Get a Makeover, But New Version Won't Be Seen for Years

Wavy Line
Laura Entis is a reporter for's Venture section.

Editor's Pick

She's Been Coding Since Age 7 and Presented Her Life-Saving App to Tim Cook Last Year. Now 17, She's on Track to Solve Even Bigger Problems.
I Helped Grow 4 Unicorns Over 10 Years That Generated $18 Billion in Online Revenues. Here's What I've Learned.
Want to Break Bad Habits and Supercharge Your Business? Use This Technique.
Don't Have Any Clients But Need Customer Testimonials? Follow These 3 Tricks To Boost Your Rep.
Why Are Some Wines More Expensive Than Others? A Top Winemaker Gives a Full-Bodied Explanation.

Related Topics

Business News

California Woman Arrested For $60 Million Postal Service Scam

Lijuan "Angela" Chen faces two charges that each carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Science & Technology

'We Were Sucked In': How to Protect Yourself from Deepfake Phone Scams.

Phone fraudsters are using AI to clone the voices of loved or trusted people to rip them off. Here's how to detect if the phone is real or robot.

Business News

Apple Just Unveiled Its VR Headset. What You Need to Know.

The Vision Pro is Apple's first major product launch since AirPods.


5 Things You Can Do Now to Improve Email Marketing

Abide by these simple tricks to help your campaigns gain more visibility and generate revenue in the process.


The Return to Office Movement is Causing a Mental Health Crisis. Employers Are Part of The Problem — But They Can Be Part of The Solution.

Employee mental health substantially worsened with the return to office demands, and it's causing disengagement and low morale. The solution demanded by employees is the answer.