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Calorie Labels Don't Change Eating Habits

In November 2014, the Food and Drug Administration released its rule for calorie counts on chain restaurants. The final rule is pretty tough: it even requires movie theaters, pizza chains, and grocery stores to include calorie counts on their products. The premise of calorie counts on food items is obvious: If a person sees that the hamburger has 800 calories and the chicken only has 500, maybe that person will choose the chicken.

Most Americans like this idea. Nearly 75 percent of Americans support menu labeling. After New York required labels in 2008, 84 percent of residents said they found the labels helpful, and 93 percent of people in a public health clinic sample saw menu labeling as important. A majority of Americans also said they would choose lower-calorie food items if they had more information at their disposal.

Unfortunately, there's one big problem with food labeling: it doesn't seem to change what we eat. Researchers reviewed 31 studies published between January 2007 and July 2013 that explored how calorie labeling influenced consumer choices at cafes and restaurants. One of the researchers concluded the results of this review: "The best designed studies show that calorie labels do not have the desired effect in reducing total calories ordered at the population level."

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