Menu Labeling: The Green Light Special

Menu Labeling - Green Light

Menu Labeling: The Green Light Special

A recent study by Oklahoma State University (OSU) on menu labeling may have some insight into the most effective way to reach customers and reduce their calorie intake. Many recent studies have indicated that there are minimal benefits to menu labeling. However, this study from OSU indicates that maybe research has not given us all of the answers.

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, restaurants with over 20 locations are required to post calories on their menus along with having other nutrition information available. Most studies have focused on fast-food restaurants in low-income areas, where obesity is the worst, education may be lacking and preventative health is nil. This study, on the other hand, focuses on full-service restaurants near the university.

The study compared calorie-only menu labeling and menu labeling with a visual aid – traffic light symbols identifying low-, medium-, and high-calorie items. The results of the calorie-only menu labeling indicated that customers reduced calories by about 33 calories versus almost 80 calories for menu labeling with a visual aid. Note that these numbers were from one of the study’s restaurants that did not focus on a healthy menu.

So, 80 calories may not sound like that much, but the menu labeling portion of the study was only conducted for 7 weeks and no education for customers was involved. I think this is promising information and something to build on. With some visual aid and customer education, menu labeling may be a small step we can all take to reduce the obesity epidemic. I would really like to see visual aid and customer education incorporated into some long-term studies on fast-food restaurants in low-income areas. I think we might see some different results!

In case you were wondering – here are how the traffic light symbols where categorized:

  • Green Light – <400 calories
  • Yellow Light – 401-800 calories
  • Red Light – >800 calories

To view OSU’s study:

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