Low-calorie restaurant menus may be making us unhealthier
A new study suggests that restaurants that now provide "low-calorie" labels on their menus can inadvertently cause people to eliminate healthy food right off the bat.
"Because most restaurant menus are quite complex—offering numerous dishes composed of multiple ingredients—diners try to simplify their decision. People have come to expect low-calorie food to taste bad or not fill them up," authors Jeffrey R. Parker (Georgia State University) and Donald R. Lehmann (Columbia University) wrote.
"We propose that by calorie organizing a menu, restaurants make it easier for people to use the general 'low-calorie' label to dismiss all low-calorie options early in the decision process," they wrote.
In four online studies, the authors asked participants to order food from menus similar to what they might encounter at well-known chain restaurants. Some participants were shown traditional menus that listed available dishes in food-type categories (with no calorie information on the menu). Another set of participants was given the same menus, but with calorie information provided by each dish. A third group was given the calorie-labeled menus with the low-calorie dishes grouped together and given a low-calorie section label.
Study results showed that the participants who were given the traditional menus without any calorie information and the menus with the low-calorie food grouped together ordered food with similar amounts of calories. Interestingly, the participants who ordered from the calorie-labeled (but not grouped) menus ordered meals with fewer calories overall.
The study is published in the Journal of Consumer Research.
(Posted on 16-04-2014)