Recent menu labeling initiatives in North America involve posting the calorie content of standard menu items, sometimes with other nutrients of public health concern, with or without contextual information (such as the recommended daily caloric intake for an average adult) or interpretive information (such as traffic light symbols). It is not clear whether this is an effective method to convey nutrition information to consumers wanting to make more-informed food choices. Of particular concern are those consumers who may be limited in their food and health literacy skills to make informed food choices to meet their dietary needs or goals. The purpose of this systematic review was to determine whether the provision of menu-based nutrition information affects the selection and consumption of calories in restaurants and other foodservice establishments. A secondary objective was to determine whether the format of the nutrition information (informative vs contextual or interpretive) influences calorie selection or consumption. Several bibliographic databases were searched for experimental or quasiexperimental studies that tested the effect of providing nutrition information in a restaurant or other foodservice setting on calories selected or consumed. Studies that recruited generally healthy, noninstitutionalized adolescents or adults were included. When two or more studies reported similar outcomes and sufficient data were available, meta-analysis was performed. Menu labeling with calories alone did not have the intended effect of decreasing calories selected or consumed (-31 kcal [P=0.35] and -13 kcal [P=0.61], respectively). The addition of contextual or interpretive nutrition information on menus appeared to assist consumers in the selection and consumption of fewer calories (-67 kcal [P=0.008] and -81 kcal [P=0.007], respectively). Sex influenced the effect of menu labeling on selection and consumption of calories, with women using the information to select and consume fewer calories. The findings of this review support the inclusion of contextual or interpretive nutrition information with calories on restaurant menus to help consumers select and consume fewer calories when eating outside the home. Further exploration is needed to determine the optimal approach for providing this menu-based nutrition information, particularly for those consumers who may be limited in their food and health literacy skills.
Keywords: Calories; Menu labeling; Meta-analysis; Nutrition.
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