Objectives: Requiring restaurants to present nutrition information on menus is under consideration as a potential way to slow the increasing prevalence of obesity. Using a survey methodology, we examined how accurately consumers estimate the nutrient content of typical restaurant meals. Based on these results, we then conducted an experiment to address how the provision of nutrition information on menus influences purchase intentions and reported preferences.
Methods: For both the survey and experiment, data were analyzed using analysis of variance techniques.
Results: Survey results showed that levels of calories, fat, and saturated fat in less-healthful restaurant items were significantly underestimated by consumers. Actual fat and saturated fat levels were twice consumers' estimates and calories approached 2 times more than what consumers expected. In the subsequent experiment, for items for which levels of calories, fat, and saturated fat substantially exceeded consumers' expectations, the provision of nutrition information had a significant influence on product attitude, purchase intention, and choice.
Conclusions: Most consumers are unaware of the high levels of calories, fat, saturated fat, and sodium found in many menu items. Provision of nutrition information on restaurant menus could potentially have a positive impact on public health by reducing the consumption of less-healthful foods.