Come December 2016, restaurant chains and certain retailers selling prepared food will have to list the caloric content of their dishes on their menus. Some restaurants already mention the calorie count alongside their dishes, which makes keeping track of calories much easier, but various studies are beginning to question whether this policy will actually make a difference for eateries and diners.

General Perception

Researchers at New York University collected receipts and conducted surveys at Burger King, McDonald’s, KFC and Wendy’s and analyzed customer purchases. Menu labeling resulted in an average consumption of 804 and 839 calories per meal, almost similar to the 802 to 857 calories consumed at fast-food locations in New Jersey where calories are not listed.

Will The Consumers Benefit?

According to researchers, only about a third of customers noticed the caloric content on the menus last year, compared with at least half of the consumers when the law was initially enforced in 2008. However, only nine percent claimed to focus on the calories mentioned and re-adjusted their order.

There Might Be Hope

According to Associate Professor Brian Elbel of NYU Langone Medical Center, the effect of mentioning calories might be greater on specific restaurants. Another study raises the possibility that menu labeling might have a more profound effect on what restaurants offer rather than customer ordering habits.

Using a database, researchers at Johns Hopkins University collected the caloric content of menus from 66 large US chains and compared them with menus that voluntarily list caloric counts on their menus. They observed that the menus the latter averaged almost 140 fewer calories per item.

Also, “There are healthier options on those menus that bring down the per-item average”, explained co-author Julia Wolfson, a fellow at Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Bring In The Parents

A third study suggests that parents prefer to order healthier options for their kids. Researchers from Tufts University analyzed purchases made at 13 Silver Diners after the regional chain modified its kids menu in 2012. The assessment revealed that the diners had added healthier entrees and sides, and had removed sodas and fries, which could also be replaced at request.