Food menus that carried nutritional labeling would help people choose healthier foods, health experts have long argued. The early results of mandatory menu-labeling laws, however, suggest that the well-intended laws may not have a huge impact on consumer eating habits.
The latest evaluation of the laws, published Friday in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, explored ordering patterns at a fast-food chain in King County, Wash., where a labeling law went into effect two years ago. Thirteen months after the law went into effect, food purchases at the Taco Time restaurants in King County were identical to those at Taco Time restaurants where menu boards did not list nutritional information.
"Given the results of prior studies, we had expected the results to be small, but we were surprised that we could not detect even the slightest hint of changes in purchasing behavior as a result of the legislation," the lead author of the study, Eric Finkelstein, of Duke-National University of Singapore Graduate Medical School, said in a news release. "The results suggest that mandatory menu labeling, unless combined with other interventions, may be unlikely to significantly influence the obesity epidemic."
In this study, however, the lack of change may be due to the fact that Taco Time was already identifying its healthier food choices in all of its restaurants prior to the new labeling law.