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Examining Consumer Responses to Calorie Information on Restaurant Menus in a Discrete Choice Experiment

Publication Date

The 2014 U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) final rule, “Food Labeling: Nutrition Labeling of Standard Menu Items in Restaurants and Similar Retail Food Establishments,” requires information on the calorie content of food items to be clearly displayed on menus. This FDA menu labeling rule applies to restaurants and similar retail food establishments that are part of a chain with 20 or more locations doing business under the same name and offering for sale substantially the same menu items. Under this rule, restaurants must provide calorie and other nutrition information for standard menu items, including food on display and self-service food.

The new federal standard creates a uniform requirement for calorie information nationwide. This will reduce situations where establishments have to meet multiple different menu labeling requirements because of varying state and local regulations. The FDA rule may also cover some establishments that may not have been covered under some state laws.

In light of the 2014 FDA final rule, our study looked at how the provision of calorie information on restaurant menus affects consumers. To gain insight on the consumer perspective, we designed an online experiment in which participants chose items from menus of nine different restaurant settings, ranging from fast food outlets to movie theaters. The calorie labels on those menus followed the requirements described in the FDA rule, and the survey also collected data on socio-demographic characteristics, attitudes toward food, and use of nutrition and calorie labels.

In a separate analysis, we study time trends in restaurant offerings. We would have liked to link these changes with local menu labeling regulations, but data on chain restaurant menu offerings over time in relation to such regulations were not available. Therefore this part of the study was limited to identifying changes in menus from 2010 to 2015 for national chains.