Thursday, September 13, 2012

Do Menu Labels Matter?

   I am certain that you have heard the news that starting next week all of McDonald's indoor and drive through menu boards will show calorie content of all foods. Recently I shared a study by Christina Roberto regarding the percent of customers who actually use the drive through lane.  Her study informed the decision to include both menus.
   There are a few things in the news that are wrong or otherwise worth noting.  First of all, McDonald's IS doing something that it will have to do anyway.  The National Menu Labeling law has been passed.  A reporter from USA Today said that the law had merely been proposed.  That is untrue.  What is pending is the final rule.  I have also seen some negative response to McDonald's.  I feel that is inappropriate.  I am not fooled into thinking that they will become a healthy eating establishment, and I think that they are mostly interested in sales.  But why make an enemy out of a restaurant that I assure you is NOT going to disappear.  
   I love that McDonald's made a decision to post early.  They made preparations when the law was passed.  The law has been supported by the National Restaurant Association.   Others will follow their lead, to move forward now.  This gets the conversation back into the public where it needs to be and may get the FDA moving on that final rule.
   McDonald's will respond to its costumers.  They are planning on introducing more fruits and vegetables.  They were the first to rid their oils of trans fats and to offer fruit in the happy meal.  I only hope that people will buy the new items.  Most of us do not go to McDonald's for their salads and such.
   Which brings me to another issue that needs to be cleared up.  Some have said, in response to McDonald's actions, that menu labeling does not have an impact on purchases.  That is not true.  We do have a number of studies that show no effect, but the ones that show a change in behavior help us to understand why the others do not.  Most people who see the information, understand the information, and know the relevancy of calories to a their daily diet will choose the lower calorie items.  However, there are also those who decide to go to McDonald's or Burger King to get that Bic Mac or Whopper and they do not look at anything... they order what they came to order.  There is nothing wrong with that.  
   We do have evidence that the public wants the information and will use the information when the conditions are conducive to this use.  Remember too that anybody can do a study and share their result with reporters, but not every study meets scientific rigor.  If you hear a news report that says the labeling does not work, ask yourself a few questions.  How do they know that?  Did they go to a restaurant and watch people?  Did they survey people?  Did they compare a restaurant's sales before and after labeling went into affect?  Did they call people on the phone?  Who did they call?  Did the people they called or watched or had fill out a form understand how calories impact their weight and health?  How many establishments or people were in their study?  1?  30?
   Check out this fact sheet for some evidence and this website for a list of research studies.

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