Menu labels don't influence student food choices

Sun Jul 3, 2011 9:35pm EDT
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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Who chooses high-vegetable food options over hamburgers? Not college students, if a study is any guide.

Menu labels on college cafeteria food that highlight the nutritional good and the bad of various meal options make no difference in students' choices, according to the study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The results add to evidence that despite laws in some cities mandating calorie counts on fast-food menus, nutritional information makes little difference to people when they are eating out.

"Although it is important to inform consumers about the nutritional characteristics of the food offered, providing nutrition information in less healthy food environments such as fast-food restaurants is unlikely to alter consumers' food choices," wrote Christine Hoefkens and Wim Verbeke, two of the study's authors, in an email to Reuters health.

The research team, based at Ghent University in Belgium, asked 224 people who regularly ate at two of the university's cafeterias to log their diets for several days.

Then the researchers put up posters in the cafeterias that rated meals on how healthy they were -- zero stars for the least healthy to three stars for the most healthy. Study participants and other diners didn't know the posters were part of a study.

Labels next to menu items also highlighted whether a meal was high in salt, calories, saturated fats or vegetables.

Six months later, the participants, who were mostly female undergraduates, again logged what they ate for a few days.

Though the researchers predicted the diners would have responded to the posters and made healthier food choices, they found no difference in the number of meals eaten from each star category.   Continued...