Background: Obesity is a major public health threat and policies aimed at curbing this epidemic are emerging. National calorie labeling legislation is forthcoming and requires rigorous evaluation to examine its impact on consumers. The purpose of this study was to examine whether point-of-purchase calorie labels in New York City (NYC) chain restaurants affected food purchasing patterns in a sample of lower income adults in NYC and Newark, NJ.
Methods: This study utilized a difference-in-difference design to survey 1,170 adult patrons of four popular chain restaurants in NYC and Newark, NJ (which did not introduce labeling) before and after calorie labeling was implemented in NYC. Receipt data were collected and analyzed to examine food and beverage purchases and frequency of fast food consumption. Descriptive statistics were generated, and linear and logistic regression, difference-in-difference analysis, and predicted probabilities were used to analyze the data.
Results: A difference-in-difference analysis revealed no significant favorable differences and some unfavorable differences in food purchasing patterns and frequency of fast food consumption between adult patrons of fast food restaurants in NYC and Newark, NJ. Adults in NYC who reported noticing and using the calorie labels consumed fast food less frequently compared to adults who did not notice the labels (4.9 vs. 6.6 meals per week, p <0.05).
Conclusion: While no favorable differences in purchasing as a result of labeling were noted, self-reported use of calorie labels was associated with some favorable behavioral patterns in a subset of adults in NYC. However, overall impact of the legislation may be limited. More research is needed to understand the most effective way to deliver calorie information to consumers.