Study Shows Calorie Counts Don’t Steer People To Healthier Options

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Do calorie counts influence your choice of food?

A study from Carnegie Mellon University published in the American Journal of Public Health shows that knowledge does not steer people toward healthier options.

For four months in 2008, the researchers handed out standardized calorie recommendations to more than 1,000 adults before they bought food at a McDonald’s in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Patrons were randomly given advice either on total daily calorie consumption, single meal calorie consumption, or no information at all.

They compared the two months before the city’s mandate for posted calorie counts in restaurants went into effect, and the two months after.

Then, they analyzed the food receipts.

“We saw Big Mac purchases go from seven-and-a-half percent with no recommendation to 10 percent with the recommendation,” says study author Julie Downs, PhD.

Turns out the ones who received calorie information chose foods with more calories, not fewer.

“People are still getting a drink and still getting fries,” she says. “I think it’s a lot to ask of people that they’re going to be doing that kind of intense calculation every single time they eat.”

While people who are counting calories appreciate the reinforcement, having advice at hand doesn’t make a dent for the vast majority.

“The verdict is coming in more and more that this is not how we’re going to fight the obesity epidemic,” Downs laments.

Calories may not be the most pressing factor in food choice. With drive-thrus on every corner, fast food is a quick, inexpensive way to feed a busy family.

“It’s pretty hard to compete against that with the message, well you should probably go and have some broccoli,” she concedes.

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