Montgomery County was one of the first jurisdictions in the country to require large restaurant chains to include calorie counts on menus.
A study released today shows that three years after the law went into effect (on July 1, 2010) the calorie information is having a significant impact on some people’s food choices but virtually none on people age 18-24.
The study, done independently by the University of Maryland Extension’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, found that 32 percent of those surveyed read the nutrition information available in the restaurants. The study included surveys in 23 restaurants around the county.
Of the customers who read the information, 39 of the 41 reported the nutritional information influenced their meal choices with 67 percent saying they used only the calorie information. The law also requires restaurants to list fat content and sodium content.
Most of the customers who said they did not read the information said they already knew what they wanted to order. Nineteen percent said the nutrition information was not important in their decision. Three of the customers said they ignored the decision because they wanted to indulge. Seventeen of the customers said they simply did not see the information at the time they ordered their food.
Of the 19 customers surveyed who were age 18-24, none read the nutrition information before ordering.
The study also found half of the customers who go to the restaurant on a daily basis used the nutrition information, more than the 26 percent who frequent the restaurant weekly, the 23 percent who frequent it monthly or the 47 percent who rarely go to the restaurant.
So basically, the calorie counts don’t scare customers away from going to Chipotle or McDonald’s on a regular basis.
“In just a short time since this measure went into effect, this survey shows that about one-third of all diners are using the new information available to make healthier food choices, and it clearly shows that our efforts are making a difference,” said Councilmember George Leventhal, who introduced the bill and saw it approved in 2009. “I think we are all disappointed by the survey’s results regarding young people not even considering the health aspects of what they are eating. There is a national effort, and a very strong one in Montgomery County, to fight obesity in young people so that they do not have increased health problems as adults. This survey shows us we have considerable work to do on this level.”