Two studies researching the value of posting calorie levels of meals in fast food restaurants have contradictory results.

In July 2008, New York City required operators to display calorie counts for menu offerings in an attempt to influence diners to limit their energy intake. A joint study conducted by New York and Yale Universities analyzed purchases at Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonalds and Wendy’s before and after the rule was imposed.

A total of 1,156 adults were surveyed in low-income neighborhoods where obesity is regarded as a significant precursor of metabolic diseases. Although the proportion of consumers noting the caloric values on menu boards increased from 16% to 54%, there was no significant difference in the number of calories consumed before and after introduction of the mandate to post nutrient content.

The second study involving 10,000 customers at 275 locations in New York City was conducted partly in 2007, with the remaining component involving 12,000 consumers completed in 2009. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene conducted the study. The results showed there was a reduction in calories purchased at nine of the 13 fast food and coffee chains studied.

It is anticipated the New York State program will be emulated in metropolitan centers in Washington, Oregon and California.

"Dietary change is likely to come gradually; it will start with consumers interested in making informed, healthy eating decisions,” said Dr. Lynn Silver, assistant commissioner for New York Bureau of Chronic Disease Prevention and Control.

Advertisement

The 2008 mandate in New York City was heavily opposed by the restaurant industry and various commentators regarded the initiative as a manifestation of the “nanny state.”

“At least the pubic has information, and that’s the government's job,” said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "This is America and you have a right to eat what you want.”