Diners eat less when restaurant menus show calorie counts

Diners eat less when restaurant menus show calorie counts

So long, chicken wings. Listing the calories in various foods on restaurant menus makes diners more likely to cut back on rich appetizers and entrees, new research shows.

The hunger for certain foods dissipated — if only slightly — when diners were shown the calorie counts on their menus, Cornell University researchers found. Customers were more likely to cut calories in their appetizers and entrees but not for dessert and drink orders.

The researchers conducted a randomized study among 5,500 diners at full-service restaurants. One group was shown the calorie information for their meal items while another group did not get that information. At the end of the meal, each diner was given a survey about diet, exercise habits and other information.

Those who saw their calorie counts ordered meals with about 45 fewer calories — a 3 percent reduction compared with diners who had no calorie information. That might not seem like a lot, but the researchers estimate that cutting consumption of just 10 calories a day can lead to weight loss over the course of the year.

Customers also seemed to value the calorie counts on their menus. Having that information readily available increased support for such measures by nearly 10 percent.

So why did diners draw a line with calories when it was time for dessert? Researchers aren’t sure but they have some theories: Later in a meal, some people may get “decision fatigue” when it comes to calories. Or they consider dessert to be something they’ve earned by cutting calories elsewhere.

Whatever the case, the outcome was clear: Hold the artichoke dip, but bring the cheesecake.

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