New legislation in New York City has required calorie information on menus since early this year. But are the calorie figures having any effect on consumer's choices?

A small survey by Self magazine a few months ago suggested that many women are adjusting their habits due to the new information, with 55% claiming to order less food. Two new studies, however, have not had such positive results.

One study of 1,156 people, Calorie Labeling And Food Choices: A First Look At The Effects On Low-Income People In New York City, published in the journal Health Affairs, concluded that low-income NYC residents weren't making anydietary changes as a result of the new information:

We found that 27.7 percent who saw calorie labeling in New York said the information influenced their choices. However, we did not detect a change in calories purchased after the introduction of calorie labeling.

The second study, by New York City's health officials and reported on in the New York Times, compared 10,965 purchases in spring 2007 (prior to the new law) with 12,153 purchases made in spring 2009. They, too, found that the number of calories purchased at most chain restaurants showed little change - but that the calories consumed in coffee shops declined. Only 56% of people said they even noticed the calorie information.

These two studies, and the Self survey, highlight several issues:

  • Those on low-incomes (who are most at risk of obesity) will buy primarily on price, favoring cheaper options over more calorific ones.
  • Some customers will simply not notice, or take into account, calorie information
  • However, those who are conscious of health and diet issues seem to find this information helpful - Self magazine is all about fitness, nutrition, health and beauty advice

So is the scheme a success or a failure? If you live in NYC, has the calorie information on menus affected your choices? Is this something you'd find helpful on menus in your own city?