The results show that the number-only calorie labels had the greatest impact on those who were the least health-conscious.
"That's good news, because this is exactly who the government is trying to reach with this information," Ellison said. "However, labels of any form so long as they are relatively easy to understand are likely to have the largest impact on less health-conscious diners because the information is new to these individuals."
For the highly health-conscious, adding the traffic light symbol to the existing calorie information further reduced the number of calories ordered.
"Calorie counts did provide the most health-conscious with additional information, but it was the symbol that really enhanced the information provided to these consumers," she said. "This is most likely because the symbol offered new information to these diners."
So if the government is looking for a policy that would help the largest possible demographic, adding a symbol to the calorie information might be a more effective way to influence food choices, Ellison says.
"A downside to the Affordable Care Act legislation as currently proposed is that it just provides a number," she said. "If we've learned anything about consumers, it's that people often operate under time constraints and are very convenience-oriented. Not every restaurant diner has time to read or even wants to read the number of calories listed for each menu item. Those decisions are often made quickly. For this reason, a symbol might be especially helpful in communicating with the broadest groups of consumers."
In 1980, 30 percent of meals were consumed outside of the home. Now it's about 40 percent, according to the paper. The proportion of food dollars spent outside the home has hovered between 46 and 49 percent since 2000, according to the Eco
|Contact: Phil Ciciora|
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign