Does Knowing The Calorie Count Change What Food You Decide To Order Online?

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When the Food and Drug Administration’s new calorie labeling rules go into effect next year, consumers will not only see calorie counts on menu boards in stores, but in online menus as well. But will coming face-to-face with your caloric decisions change what you order when you order food online?

A new study from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pennsylvania says yes, possibly, NPR’s The Salt reports.

“Calorie labels can be really helpful,” explains lead author Eric VanEpps. “We have what we think of as healthy categories like salad. But not every salad is healthier than every sandwich.”

He wanted to find out whether people would make healthier online food choices if calories were presented alongside each menu item. He and his team worked with a large health insurance company to develop an online lunch-ordering system for employees, that featured either “traffic light” coding on meals — healthful (green), less healthful (yellow) and not-so-healthful (red) meals — exact calorie counts, both kinds of labels, or no labels.

Workers who saw online menus that revealed some kind of information about the content of meals ordered about 10% fewer calories than people who didn’t see any health information.

Another researcher who conducted a study along those lines in a restaurant setting, and found that traffic light labels can help encourage healthful choices, but calorie counts don’t change ordering habits much.

“I do think this new study is an improvement on our knowledge, which is great,” Brenna Ellison, a food economist at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, told The Salt. “Maybe when people [ordering online] have the time to sit down and think about it, they are attentive to the calorie information.”

Click For Fewer Calories: Health Labels May Change Online Ordering Habits [The Salt]

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