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Fast-food Menu Calorie Counts Legally Compliant but Not as Helpful to Consumers as They Should Be

Published: February 24, 2012.
By Columbia University Medical Center

Calorie listings on fast-food chain restaurant menus might meet federal labeling requirements but don't do a good job of helping consumers trying to make healthy meal choices, a new Columbia University School of Nursing (CUSON) study reports. The researchers studied the calorie counts for 200 food items on menu boards in fast-food chain restaurants in the New York inner-city neighborhood of Harlem. "

The federal health reform law passed in March 2010 requires restaurants with 20 or more locations to provide calorie data and additional nutritional information for menu items and self-service foods. A total of 70 menus and menu boards from 12 restaurant chains were photographed, and 200 food items rated, using a measure of "practical utility" that the researchers developed to calculate (1) what constitutes a single serving and (2) the number of calories in a single serving. "

"In low-income communities with a high density of chain restaurants, and where educational attainment of consumers may be low, simplifying calorie postings and minimizing the math required to calculate calories would increase menu board utility," they say.

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