Communities such as New York City and San Francisco have mandated more overt nutrition labeling on fast food in hopes that, with information, people will make better choices on what they eat.
Sadly, a new study of people in an area where this mandate is already in effect found that better nutritional information didn't change eating behavior one iota.
The study in King County, Wash., which includes Seattle, was carried out by researchers from the Duke-National University of Singapore Graduate Medical School and the county public health department.
It tracked food-purchasing behavior at Taco Time restaurants in the county. These restaurants, like all other fast food outlets in King County, are required to post a sign at the point of purchase listing how many calories, grams of fat, carbs and salt each menu item contains.
The study's conclusion? There was no difference between what customers bought at these locations vs. other Taco Time restaurants that did not provide the detailed nutritional information. Researchers "could not detect even the slightest hint of changes...." according to lead author Eric Finkelstein.
Finkelstein did point out that Taco Time had already called customer attention to healthier options among its offerings by flagging them on the overhead menu with a "Healthy Highlights" logo. He speculated that this simple step may be as effective as supplying customers with detailed nutrition information.
The findings, while small in scope, call into question the federal government's plan to require labeling of fast food in restaurants with more than 20 locations. Details of this plan are due from the FDA by March 23.
The full report appears in the January issue of the American Journal for Preventative Medicine.
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