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Do posted calorie counts help people make healthy choices?

Several studies show that consumers still order what tastes good, even when the nutrition information of a dish is posted on the menu.

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Calories for menu items are listed outside a Roy Rogers Restaraunt on June 18 in New York City. In 2008 a regulation was passed in New York requiring chain restaurants to post calories on menus, but several studies have found the calories listings have no effect on what customers order.

Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor

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Have you seen numbers on your menus lately, such as, 410 calories for a bagel and cream cheese, 190 calories for a latte, 1,815 calories for a chicken burrito? Those guilt-inducing numbers are popping up on menus more and more often.

Since 2008, when chain restaurants in New York were first required to post calorie counts on their menus, the practice has spread to other areas, including Seattle and California. Next year menu labeling will go national; under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act chain restaurants with 20 or more locations will be required to post calorie counts on their menus.

But does the number next to your favorite salad, burger, or taco really make you think twice before ordering?

Several studies show that even with the nutrition information clearly visible, consumers still order what tastes good, rather than the healthiest choice.

A study by New York University asked participants in New York City to turn in their food receipts both before and after calorie counts were posted on menus.

While most study participants said they noticed the calorie count, and 28 percent even said they were even “influenced” by the information, the researchers found no difference in the total number of calories people purchased.

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