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Menu Labeling

Two young boys enjoy a healthy snack at First United Methodist Preschool in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
PRIORITY POLICY

Menu Labeling

Empowering consumers with the information they need to make healthier choices

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) required chain restaurants and similar food retail establishments with at least 20 locations nationwide to post calorie information on their menus and menu boards, and provide additional nutrition information like saturated fat and added sugars to customers upon request. The Food and Drug Administration’s rules that enforce this provision of the ACA, which took effect in 2018, apply to a wide variety of locations, such as supermarkets, convenience stores, delis, movie theaters and stadiums. Retailers with fewer than 20 locations are not required to abide by these rules, though they may do so voluntarily.

Research compiled in What Works for Health, part of the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps program, shows that benefits of restaurant menu labeling include increased awareness of and a reduction in calories purchased, as well as reduced caloric intake and reduced portion sizes. According to an FDA regulatory impact analysis, the menu labeling policy will provide a total net savings of $8 billion over 20 years.

Recommendations

Strong policies can help children and families eat healthier foods and be active. RWJF offers specific policy recommendations to help ensure more children in the United States have consistent access to healthy foods from the earliest days of life, in order to help them grow up at a healthy weight.

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Spotlight

Menu Labels Can Help People Choose Fewer Calories

RWJF’s Healthy Eating Research program examined the impact of a menu labeling policy in Seattle/King County that applied to chain restaurants. The study found that adults and teens who used the information purchased up to 143 fewer calories compared to customers who did not, and a follow-up study found that the percentage of adults who saw and used calorie information had tripled two years after implementation.

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Fast Facts

85%

85% of U.S. households eat out on average about 5 times a week.

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300K

The menu labeling rules apply to approximately 300,000 food retail establishments nationwide.

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$4.6B

Menu labeling in restaurants alone could prevent up to 41,000 cases of childhood obesity and save over $4.6 billion in health care costs over 10 years.

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Data to Share

Large chain restaurants that voluntarily post calorie information have lower-calorie items compared to chains that do not post.
A study of New York jurisdictions with mandatory calorie labeling laws concluded that making calorie information available at point-of-purchase impacted people across the BMI spectrum–with the largest impact on low-income and minority individuals.
Most people tend to significantly underestimate the number of calories in their meals, some by upwards of 500 or more calories.
Several studies show that posting nutritional information at the point of purchase can result in healthier choices; in some cases, a difference of 150 fewer calories.