Does posting calories change attitudes about food?

The label on the packaging of a sandwich shows its nutritional value.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Steve Chiotakis: As the new year rang in, California became the first state in the nation to force big restaurant chains to post calorie information inside their stores and on their menu boards. There's a similar law in New York City that took effect last April. Will the new law help Californians make healthier food choices?

Brian Elbel is Assistant Professor of Medicine and Health policy at New York University. He's with us right now to talk about it. Good morning.

Brian Elbel: Good morning.

Chiotakis: How does posting calories affect the way people eat out and the foods they choose?

Elbel: The short answer is, for the populations we studied thus far, it doesn't appear to have a large impact on the foods that people are choosing. That said, I think once it gets phased in towards a larger population, and we look at larger populations, we might be seeing a larger effect.

Chiotakis: Do people really pay attention to all this anyway? Are they looking at this stuff?

Elbel: Some people clearly are. And there's clearly a subset of the population that really wants this information and likely is using it in a very meaningful way. But it's not necessarily everyone. Many people are going in, they're ordering what they always order, and they're moving on. But as these calorie-labeling regulations get phased in across the country, with California happening now, you might see an uptick in this. You might see this information become a little more actualized in people's minds and be used in a larger way.

Chiotakis: You know Brian, do attitudes change depending upon where we're talking about here? Say I'm in a fancy restaurant, I'm having a nice dinner -- I don't think I'm so concerned about how many calories my shrimp and grits will have, right?

Elbel: It's very possible, and we're just starting to look at these non-fast-food places. That said, if you're going into a place where you thought those shrimp and grits were healthy, and you realized that they're not, then you might sort of change your mind in a different way. So it's really kind of about how the actual calories meet your expectations for how many calories there should be in that meal.

Chiotakis: Posting these calorie counts has been touted as a way to make people stay slim, of course make inroads on obesity. Is there truth in that?

Elbel: It's possible that these labels, as they get rolled out, are going to have some influence on eating, and hopefully healthy eating. But I think what we know so far is that they're not going to be enough. I think we're going to need other policies and regulations, and move in on the business side, to really have a larger scale influence on obesity. So we're going to need to look at things like pricing and advertising and marketing and availability of foods in certain communities.

Chiotakis: Brian Elbel, assistant professor of medicine and health policy at New York University. Brian, thanks.

Elbel: Thank you.

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