Providing calorie and nutrition information on the menu can influence consumers' food choices and prompt them to eat sensibly, a new report says.
More and more Americans eating out demand nutritional labelling of restaurant food as the country faces an epidemic of obesity.
"Using only the sense of taste, smell, and sight to accurately estimate the levels of calories, saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium found in a typical restaurant food serving is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for most consumers," wrote the study authors.
They are Elizabeth Howlett, University of Arkansas, Scot Burton, Sam M. Walton College of Business, Kenneth Bates University of San Diego and Kyle Huggins, James Madison University.
They looked at how participants' prior expectations came into play and whether providing calorie and nutrient information after the meal changed their subsequent food choices.
The researchers found that it did make a change, especially when consumers' expectations are not fulfilled when they examine the information.
"When a 'great taste' claim was used to describe a restaurant menu item, the provision of calorie information did not affect consumers' perceptions, presumably because foods that claim great taste are typically expected to be relatively high in calories," the authors explained.
"On the other hand, when a 'low calorie' claim was presented but the menu item was higher in calories than expected, the provision of nutritional information increased the perceived likelihood of gaining weight and developing heart disease."
The study shows that nutritional information can help consumers moderate their eating over time, said an Arkansas university release.
The new study was published in the Journal of Consumer Research.