Health and Economic Impacts of the National Menu Calorie Labeling Law in the United States: A Microsimulation Study

Circ Cardiovasc Qual Outcomes. 2020 Jun;13(6):e006313. doi: 10.1161/CIRCOUTCOMES.119.006313. Epub 2020 Jun 4.


Background: Excess caloric intake is linked to weight gain, obesity, and related diseases, including type 2 diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease (CVD). Obesity incidence is rising, with nearly 3 in 4 US adults being overweight or obese. In 2018, the US federal government finalized the implementation of mandatory labeling of calorie content on all menu items across major chain restaurants nationally as a strategy to support informed consumer choice, reduce caloric intake, and potentially encourage restaurant reformulations. Yet, the potential health and economic impacts of this policy remain unclear.

Methods and results: We used a validated microsimulation model (CVD-PREDICT) to estimate reductions in CVD events, diabetes mellitus cases, gains in quality-adjusted life years, costs, and cost-effectiveness of the menu calorie labeling intervention, based on consumer responses alone, and further accounting for potential industry reformulation. The model incorporated nationally representative demographic and dietary data from National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys 2009 to 2016; policy effects on consumer diets and body mass index-disease effects from published meta-analyses; and policy effects on industry reformulation, policy costs (policy administration, industry compliance, and reformulation), and health-related costs (formal and informal healthcare costs, productivity costs) from established sources or reasonable assumptions. We modeled change in calories to change in weight using an established dynamic weight-change model, assuming 50% of expected calorie reductions would translate to long-term reductions. Findings were evaluated over 5 years and a lifetime from healthcare and societal perspectives, with uncertainty incorporated in both 1-way and probabilistic sensitivity analyses. Between 2018 and 2023, implementation of the restaurant menu calorie labeling law was estimated, based on consumer response alone, to prevent 14 698 new CVD cases (including 1575 CVD deaths) and 21 522 new type 2 diabetes mellitus cases, gaining 8749 quality-adjusted life years. Over a lifetime, corresponding values were 135 781 new CVD cases (including 27 646 CVD deaths), 99 736 type 2 diabetes mellitus cases, and 367 450 quality-adjusted life years. Assuming modest restaurant item reformulation, both health and economic benefits were estimated to be about 2-fold larger than based on consumer response alone. The consumer response alone was estimated to be cost-saving by 2023, with net lifetime savings of $10.42B from a healthcare perspective and $12.71B from a societal perspective. Findings were robust in a range of sensitivity analyses.

Conclusions: Our national model suggests that the full implementation of the US calorie menu labeling law will generate significant health gains and healthcare and societal cost-savings. Industry responses to modestly reformulate menu items would provide even larger additional benefits.

Keywords: cardiovascular diseases; diabetes mellitus; nutrition policy; obesity; restaurants.