There’s lean evidence to show we’re making better food choices if the latest US research is anything to go by. Glenn Cardwell reports.
In Australia and the US, your favourite fast food outlet will list the kilojoules (or calories) next to each menu item. You assess your hunger, check your three yummiest choices, then wisely ask for the one with the lowest number next to it. I mean, you don’t want to be buying bigger clothes any time soon.
You can now classify yourself as weird. Okay, extremely unusual. Not many people do that.
A New York study of lunch selections determined whether menu choice was influenced by having the kilojoules or calories written next to them.
They checked 168 venues of the top 11 best-selling fast-food chains about a year before, and a year after the introduction of labelling in mid-2008.
Overall, there was no change in the number of kilojoules chosen from the menu. Before labelling, people chose 3465 kilojoules (828 calories) for lunch, and afterwards, 3540 kilojoules (846 calories). Statistically, that is no difference. Not good news, at all.
Looking at the results further, there were some differences worth noting. First, we need to know that this study was done in adults who could speak English. There were no kids or under-18s.
Although customers were chosen at random, they knew they would have to hand their receipt to a data collector (in exchange for a free public transport pass as a reward). True, this shouldn’t have influenced their choice, but it may have.
More than half of the venues were McDonald’s and Subway, with the pizza chains the next biggest proportion of the outlets surveyed. And this was New York! The results were that only one in seven of the participants made lower-energy choices.
When deciding on lunch, 15 per cent of the participants said they used the kilojoule information as a guide. As you can guess, women were more likely than men to choose lower-kilojoule options, and this decision was also more common in wealthier neighbourhoods than in the poorer areas.
Those that used the kilojoule information had a lunch with 420 kilojoules (100 calories) fewer, on average, compared to those that ignored the information.
Not a lot, but it could be very significant over a year if they regularly bought their lunch at that venue.
What does it all mean?
You will recall the expression: ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him wear a bikini.’ Health authorities can deliver wise messages, make it easier for the customer, yet in a democracy the consumer wields the power and will make their own decisions, healthy or not.
In this case, about one in seven did make a smarter decision, but this, of course, can be overridden by meals being labelled ‘On Special.’