Yale study finds calorie labeling doesn’t work

There’s a new study out about calorie labeling and it comes to some interesting conclusions. It’s from the Rudd Center at Yale, authored by Christina Roberto, Peter D. Larsen, Henry Agnew, Jenny Baik, and Kelly D. Brownell. Here’s the basic description of the methodology and conclusion from the Rudd Center’s release:

The researchers studied 303 adults in New Haven, Connecticut, dividing them into three groups – the first saw a menu with no calorie labels, the second saw a menu with calorie labels, and the third saw a menu with calorie labels plus information on the recommended daily caloric intake for an average adult.

Participants in the two groups who saw calorie labels ate 14 percent fewer calories than the group whose participants did not see calorie labels. Furthermore, when after-dinner eating was factored in, people in the group who saw menu labels and recommended calorie guidelines consumed an average of 250 fewer calories than people in the other groups.

Unsurprisingly this result is being pitched as evidence in favor of mandatory calorie labeling and the headline used by credulous news sources like USA Today is quite a bit different from my own. Digging a bit deeper into the actual study [pdf] complicates the picture.

To its credit, the study addresses one of the questions ignored by much of the previous research: The possibility that people who are prompted to order lighter meals because they see calorie information will compensate by eating more food at other times. This study attempts to account for that by doing follow-up interviews with participants about what they consumed for the rest of the day. And this is where things get interesting:

Most striking was the impact of adding daily caloric requirement information to the menu. It was surprising how much participants in the calorie labels condition ate in the evening hours following the meal; when calories consumed in this condition during and after the study meal were combined, there was no advantage for calorie labeling only over no labeling. The advantage occurred when the menu included both calorie labels and a prominently displayed notice stating the average person should consume approximately 2000 calories per day. Total caloric intake for the combination of the study meal and food consumed later was 1630 calories, 1625 calories, and 1380 calories for the no calorie labels, calorie labels only, and calorie labels plus information conditions, respectively.

Emphasis mine. In other words, this study supports the arguments made by critics of mandatory labeling by finding that labeling alone doesn’t lead to reduced total consumption. Of course, that result is never mentioned in the press release.

There are other limitations to the study, perhaps most substantially the fact that it took place in an environment far removed from the atmosphere of a restaurant:

When participants arrived at 5:30 pm on the first day, they had been instructed to abstain from eating after 2:30 pm to standardize hunger levels. The experiment took place in a university classroom in a building not affiliated with eating research. Participants sat behind dividers so they could not see others’ meal choices; 2 to 14 individuals participated per study session.

It’s difficult to imagine anyone finding this environment conducive to having a pleasant meal. I have to wonder if outside a lab, when trying to enjoy themselves, participants would be more likely to indulge despite the calorie recommendation.

Regardless of that, this study suggests that calorie labeling alone won’t be sufficient to change diets. Thus we come to the next step:

The findings support the proposal that chain restaurants should be required to post calorie labels on restaurant menus; however, they suggest that to maximize the effectiveness of this policy, menu items should also include a label informing individuals of the daily caloric requirements for an average adult.

As Jacob Sullum wrote of mandated calorie postings last year, “There’s a difference between informing people and nagging them.” If health researchers get their way that difference is about to get even smaller.

Previously: For more on the question of whether nutritional information should be prominently posted or merely made available, see this post from July.


  1. bmack says:

    If I were eating a restaurant with prominent calorie information on the menu, I would order low-calorie dishes for the sole purpose of appearing not overindulgent. I would probably also focus on maintaining a modest number of calories, while ignoring the nutritional content of those calories. As always, pushing a single metric is no substitute for holistic nutritional education.

  2. Daniel says:

    I think it’s important to note, regarding the lack of difference in calories consumed between the calorie-labeled-only group and the non-labeled group, that it’s fairly common knowledge that, for weight loss, it’s best to spread your calories out during the day–the idea that, when dieting, you should have six meals per day, rather than three.

    So, even if there’s no ultimate difference in total calories consumed between the group that had only calorie labeling and the group that had no calorie labeling, putting calories on the menu still imbues a behavior that is ultimately helpful for the group that had calorie labeling. Losing weight isn’t just about the number of calories consumed–it’s also about how they’re consumed.

  3. vimeo.com says:

    My brother recommended I may like this web
    site. He was totally right. This publish actually made my day.

    You can not consider simply how much time I had spent for this information! Thanks!

  4. The direct result of histamine production being
    blocked is allergy relief. t come with an ounce of dairy in them and still enjoy the wonderful
    taste and consistency of one’s muffins. Titanium,
    gold, and plastic earrings are usually good choices.

  5. Appreciation to my father who informed me on the topic of this web site, this blog is really remarkable.

  6. Вon bah je vais en parler sur un blog

  7. femmes nues says:

    L’еnsembledes post sont véritablement intéressants

  8. Apple Cider Vinegar can help. They virtually everything
    would like within the direction of hint look fascinating ahead every and each occasion,
    surprisingly, at constant time currently that they keep
    on at home! There’s acne treatment reviews a little bit of the product to do the best we can and acne still persists.
    It’s really like– it’s smells good, very natural.
    Acne is common among teens 73 percent of teens between the ages 12 acne treatment
    reviews and 14. There tropical island doubt
    pretty the purpose that nearly everything partner below
    a second set of universe need to.

  9. test says:

    Why people still use to read news papers when in this technological globe
    the whole thing is existing on net?

  10. Encοre un magnijfique poste : j’en discuterai dans la soirée avec certains dee mes amis

  11. It is the teamwork between the manager and the affiliates that will make their affiliate marketing business more successful and profitable.

    The payment of the online order is through credit
    cards and while making the payment they ask if you have pizza
    hut coupon or code for availing the discount
    on price. Take note, if a coupon code is provided with the link,
    you will need to enter this code during the final steps at check-out.

  12. films xxx says:

    Ӎince je pensɑis écrire un petit poste similaire à celui ci

  13. sexe gratuit says:

    Un pοst vraiment ρlein de vérité

  14. Is the automobile parts firm that looks after outstanding cars like the BMW M3.
    It has a total array of BMW parts as well as accessories.
    Car Components Information’s pleasant customer support team awaits clients
    and also they are seriously all set to serve each and every BMW car
    component need. The BMW M3 was very first presented in October
    2000 and also developed component of the E46 3-Series
    array. It really did not take wish for the BMW M3 E46 exchangeable alternative with a material roof to appear.

  15. Our expertise in family members and cosmetic
    dental care sets us besides any other dental office in Gilbert When it comes
    to selecting a Gilbert dental practitioner, we recognize you have lots of selections.
    Call AFDC today if you’re looking for cosmetic dental
    experts in Gilbert with years of dental encounter.
    Visual Household Dental is home to the dental experts Gilbert AZ families trust
    for their dental health care. Becoming the very best oral workplace in Gilbert doesn’t happen due to good luck.

  16. This page certainly has all of the information and
    facts I needed concerning this subject and didn’t know who to ask.

  17. Thanks a lot for sharing this with all people you actually know
    what you’re talking approximately! Bookmarked. Kindly additionally talk over with my website =).
    We could have a hyperlink change arrangement between us

  18. Hi, after reading this awesome post i am too happy to share my familiarity here with colleagues.

  19. Hello my loved one! I wish to say that this post is awesome, nice written and come with almost all important infos.
    I’d like to look more posts like this .


  1. [...] of such legislation found that customers were much more likely to head caloric warnings when recommended daily intake was also posted. Many states are now considering nutrition information laws and fast food chains [...]

  2. [...] Mangu-Ward | January 11, 2010 There are a lot of problems with requiring that restaurants include calorie counts on their menus and placards. But one of the [...]

  3. [...] are a lot of problems with requiring that restaurants include calorie counts on their menus and placards. But one of the [...]

Leave a Comment