NEW YORK – Right after calories were posted on fast food menus, people cut back on what they ordered. But it didn't last.
Customers at fast-food chains in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas ordered an average of 60 fewer calories per transaction in the weeks following the figures, according to a study published Wednesday in the medical journal, BMJ. This was a fall of 4%, and the decrease was largely due to extras such as french fries and desserts.
After about a year, the drop was down to 23 calories.
Since orders probably included food for more people, the impact per person may be even less affected. But the reductions are average, and some people may have made bigger cuts, while others did nothing, said study author Joshua Petimar of Harvard's School of Public Health.
"The strongest impact can be felt in the short term, while the long-term effects are still slightly up in the air," he said.
It is the latest effort to measure how calorie counts affect what people order. A national law that came into force last year requires chains with 20 or more locations to add calories. Some places, including New York City and California, introduced similar rules years ago to fight overweight. The idea is to give people information to make better choices.
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Previous research has suggested that calorie counts lead to modest or no changes, and Wednesday's study suggests that this also appears to be the case in the South, where overweight numbers tend to be higher. The authors, however, say that more research is needed to understand the effect of the practice, especially in the long term and in other environments, such as seating restaurants.
People may not notice the numbers on crowded fast menus, or know what they mean, said Bonnie Liebman of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, who has been pushing for calorie counts on menus.
"Like, is 600 a lot? Is 800 a lot?" she said.
Calorie requirements vary, but a 40-year-old moderately active man is estimated to need around 2,600. Liebman said that requiring restaurants to put out calories is also a way to push them to make dishes less fat.
The findings were based on sales data from 1
The sites released calorie counts in 2017, when the law came into force. The authors noted that the study was completed before the law's delayed implementation last year, as awareness may have been greater.
And they said people may have made changes the study didn't catch, such as asking for no mayo or cheese, or deciding to stop going to the restaurant. The first average drop in calories was driven by people buying fewer items instead of switching to lower-calorie options, the study found.
Although the study did not find a major drop, it does show that calorie counts can have an impact, said Brian Elbel, a researcher on calorie intake at NYU's School of Medicine.
"I don't think 60 calories is going to turn the tide," he said. "But I think it could be part of a wider set of efforts."
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute & # 39; s Department of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.