How Chain Restaurant Label Laws Help Children

Recent legislation passed by several states require chain restaurants to post nutrition information for items on their menus, which is intended to lead to healthier food choices for children and help combat obesity. If you are concerned about making better choices to maintain a healthy weight for your child, then restaurant nutrition menu labels can help you.

A study published in The Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, concluded that menu labeling may lead parents to purchase significantly lower calorie meals for their children in restaurant settings. In the study, two groups of English-speaking parents with children ages three to six years were presented with a menu from McDonalds. The choices included all items available on regular McDonald’s menus; from the Big Mac to chicken nuggets and french fries. It also included salads with regular and low-fat dressing options and regular and diet soft drink choices in various sizes.

Parents were randomly assigned into two groups and asked to select a meal for themselves and a meal for one child.  A control group chose their meals without being provided with nutrition information while an intervention group received nutrition information that corresponded to the meal options. Parents in the intervention group, with access to nutrition facts, selected meals for their children that averaged 102 fewer calories than those selected by parents without the information.  Access to nutrition information, however, did not affect the calorie level of selections that parents made for themselves.

Hypothetically, among children consuming fast food once a day, this 102 daily calorie savings could lead to an average reduction of 3,000 calories per month, or enough to lose (or prevent gaining) almost one pound.  Since the study was conducted in a clinic setting rather than in a restaurant setting in the presence of the food itself (or a hungry child lobbying for a favorite meal!), however, it is unclear whether these results would translate into real-life practice.  Furthermore, since the study was limited to English-speaking parents, it is unclear whether nutrition information might impact non-English-speaking parents in the same manner, particularly if they are not as comfortable reading and interpreting the nutrition information presented in English.

Menu labeling laws come at a time when 17 percent of children and adolescents aged two to 19 years are obese, a condition that can lead to type 2 diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea, cardiovascular disease and other health risks, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Visible nutrition information has been shown to help some consumers make healthier decisions when purchasing foods, but more research is needed to determine the long-term impact of nutrition labeling on food choices and obesity rates. Parents can use the information to demand better meal choices for their children, which in turn could lead restaurants to offer more reduced-calorie options. Currently, menu label laws have been adopted in approximately seven states or localities and are being considered by several others.

Visit the CDC Tips for Parents site for more information, or consult your physician for individualized weight-maintenance plan.

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