In 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued legislative support for calorie labeling on restaurants’ menus. The intervention focused on increasing customer’s awareness of the food they consume and maintaining the transparency of the calorie intake per each meal. Although calorie labeling increases the costs of menu development and does not provide any distinction between beneficial and empty calories, it still draws consumers’ attention to calorie content, its influence on their health and disease management.
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The importance of calorie labeling is in its ability to provide the consumer with the exact number of calories per meal, nutrition information about the meal, and support his or her decision toward a healthier choice. It does not directly change consumer behavior but raises awareness about their eating habits, thus fueling consumers’ demand for healthier items in the menu and potentially preventing the development of chronic illnesses. Moreover, consumers tend to underestimate the number of calories they take each day. Such menus will help them navigate their standard course of meals and see whether it has to be changed or not.
Another important aspect is that these menus will help people with chronic illnesses support healthy behavior. Obesity can increase the risk of developing diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart disease, etc. Consumers with diabetes can evaluate the facts and added sugar in a meal, as well as carbohydrates, which increase blood glucose levels. People with obesity can compare the number of calories in different kinds of meals, choosing the one that is healthier and beneficial for them due to their condition. They can also find out whether the meal they prefer is not too high-calorie. If a person with obesity follows a specific diet and lifestyle interventions, he or she will be able to decrease their daily calorie intake to lose weight.
It is important to be health-conscious for all consumers, not only those with or at risk of gaining chronic illnesses. Research shows, however, that calorie labeling together with the traffic light system (the division of meals into best, careful, and limited choices) have more impact on people with unhealthy eating behaviors than those already aware of the problem. Nevertheless, it is important to increase the number of individuals aware of the impact of calorie intake on their daily lives by displaying them on menus. First, it will draw the attention of those unfamiliar with the issue of their food choices. Second, it will support those who are attentive to their calorie intake. Third, it will spread the general awareness of calorie intake among the American population and influence the obesity epidemic.
The problem with calorie labeling is that it is costly for chain restaurants and might not be supported; some of the meals will become less popular, affecting restaurants’ revenues. Restaurant chains might provide wrong calorie labeling to increase the consumption of a particular meal or refuse to provide detailed data about it. Calorie labeling can lead to a public backlash, thus negatively influencing the image and market share of chain restaurants. Nevertheless, to remain competitive, they will have to add new, healthier items to maintain their market share and consumer loyalty. Consumers’ choice of healthier foods will allow restaurants to increase sales by introducing a new line of items suitable for dieting.
To conclude, calorie labeling will help consumers evaluate nutritional information of meals, estimate their daily calorie intake, pay attention to their food choices, support healthy behaviors in case of chronic illnesses such as diabetes and obesity, and make conscious choices about their health. Although calorie labeling increases the costs for restaurant chains and does not always use the traffic light system, it still draws consumers’ attention to calorie content, its impact on their health and disease management. Calorie labeling should be supported to address the epidemic of obesity in the USA and maintain a healthy approach toward one’s own body.