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Nutritional Information Often Ignored By Fast-Food Patrons

March 27, 2009

University researchers found that a staggering majority of customers of fast food restaurants almost never look at the nutrition information provided by the company, Reuters reported.

Christina A. Roberto and her colleagues from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut surveyed 4311 people buying food at McDonalds, Burger King, Au Bon Pain, or Starbucks and noted that only six of them, or one-tenth of one percent, took advantage of the available nutrition information while ordering.

Roberto told Reuters Health the study suggests that fast food restaurants need to locate such information in a “really highly visible place, like on a menu board”.

“The way it’s offered now is just not an effective way to disseminate that kind of information to the public,” she said.

Legislation is being looked into for many cities and states that would require chain restaurants to prominently post the calorie content of food choices available at their location.

Such laws are already being established in major U.S. cities.

Chains with 15 or more locations in Manhattan now must label menu items with their calorie content, and a similar law was passed in California.

However, such legislation is being contested by the restaurant industry, which claims nutritional information is already available on the companies’ Websites for any customers who choose to seek it out.

But Roberto and her team wrote in their report in the American Journal of Public Health, only half of the biggest chains make this information available in their restaurants.

Roberto’s research team surveyed customers at two different locations of each restaurant chain in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, New Haven, and the Connecticut suburbs of New York City.

Only those customers who were observed walking up to a poster with the information and looking at it, or picking up a pamphlet, or touching the screen of the computer that Au Bon Pain restaurants use to provide nutrition info were considered by the researchers to have “looked at nutrition information.”

Only two people were observed checking out nutrition information in McDonalds, where both stores provided posters with nutrition information and one offered pamphlets, although two customers looked at the information after buying food.

Only three patrons of Burger King and one Au Bon Pain customer looked at the nutrition posters or the computer. No customers were observed picking up nutrition pamphlets available at Starbucks.

Roberto and her colleagues said that while many Americans eat meals in restaurants, studies in the past have shown that people are often unaware of how many calories they consume in these establishments, which typically offer large portions of food with even bigger upgrade options.

She said menu labels might help people think twice when ordering and steer them toward healthier choices.

“First and foremost it gives consumers information that they really have the right to know,” she said.

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