DURHAM, N.C. -- A pending component of health care reform would require restaurants and vending machines to list calorie information on menus to help fight obesity.
But there's little evidence to date that it's an effective way to prevent overeating.
A new Duke University study suggests a better approach might be for restaurants to expand and improve calorie listings on their websites and mobile apps, so customers can come better prepared to order a healthier menu item.
"If consumers wait until they enter restaurants to make purchasing decisions, it might be too late," said lead author Gary Bennett, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience, global health at Duke who studies obesity prevention. "Particularly for those who are watching their waistlines, it's important to make plans before stepping through the restaurant doors. That's why we were interested in understanding whether and how calorie information was available online."
More than one-third of Americans are obese, and restaurant food, which often includes added butter, sauces and grains, can be a big contributor to weight gain.
Once inside a restaurant, it's difficult to counteract in-store marketing, as well as psychological and biological responses that lead people to overeat, researchers have found.
The Food and Drug Administrations is still working out the final rules for menu calorie labeling, and there's no established date yet for publishing them, said FDA spokesman Daniel Reese.
"It's wonderful to see regulators doing more to help consumers make informed purchasing decisions," Bennett said. "However, we will need to adapt these policies to the emerging evidence, which suggests that simply placing calories on restaurant menus will not be sufficient."
The Duke study, which posts at 5 p.m. ET Wednesday, Aug. 21, on the website of the j
|Contact: Steve Hartsoe|