Are posted nutritional facts helpful?

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When I go into a restaurant and I see that the calories and nutrition facts are posted on the menu, it makes me think twice about what I order. But, if those facts are not there it usually will not cross my mind. I have never looked up nutrition facts about a restaurant online, even though they are required to post them. With obesity becoming such a huge problem, calorie intake and nutritional facts are definitely something that people should be considering when making choices about what to eat. Christina A. Roberto, MSHenry Agnew, and Kelly D. Brownell, PhD did an observational study on this.

The study included four chain restaurants: Starbucks, McDonald’s, Burger King, and Au Bon Pain. These four places were required to provide nutrition facts somehow in their restaurant and the scientists would observe how many actually looked at the facts and used them to make a decision about what to order. The scientists said, “We hypothesized that a negligible percentage of consumers would access this information” (Agnew, Brownell, Roberto). They would observe everyone who came into the restaurant (besides children who didn’t apply) during 1.5 hour intervals and mark down anyone who looked at the nutrition facts. They observed 2 different locations for each restaurant in both an urban and suburban area.

In McDonald’s and Burger King the facts were put on a wall poster that people had to turn and look at. Starbucks provided nutrition pamphlets, and one of the McDonalds did as well. The facts at Au Bon Pain were on a computer in the restaurant that customers had to touch the screen to see. Customers were marks down if they turned to read the posters, if they picked up a pamphlet, or if they touched the computer screen. A total of 45 intervals were observed with 4,311 customers. This was a blind experiment because the customers did not know they were being observed.

The results showed that out of 1,501 customers in McDonald’s, 1 woman and 1 man accessed the nutrition facts before ordering, and 1 woman and 1 man accessed the facts after ordering. In Burger King, out of 482 customers, 1 woman an 2 men looked at the poster. Out of 1,671 customers in Au Bon Pain 1 woman accessed the information. In Starbucks, not one of the 657 people observed looked at the information. The scientists concluded that if nutrition facts are provided, they must be easily visible and accessible such as on a big menu board that people are already looking at.

Since this study was observational, we cannot definitively rule out the options of third variables and chance, but with only 6 people out of 4,311, it seems very likely that the information would be correct. The results are consistent with the hypothesis and the people who did look at the nutrition facts seemed to be the anecdotes. Posting the nutrition facts did not cause the customers to look at them. The customers could have already looked up the nutrition facts online and did not need to see them again, but there is no way to tell that. Most of the time people are not extremely concerned with nutrition facts in a fast food restaurant because they already know it’s unhealthy. Either it is a once in a while type thing, they are on a tight budget, or they just do not care. With that being said, it is still better to know what you are putting into your body. In conclusion, if people are going to look at nutrition facts they need to be visibly accessible to them in an easy manner.



9 thoughts on “Are posted nutritional facts helpful?

  1. Kathryn Lauren Filling Post author

    Azhane, your point about nobody “EVER EVER EVER EVER” looking at the screen in Au Bon Pain shows the study was right. When things are out of the way or take more effort for people to look at they usually pass on it. I disagree with you that the majority of the world wouldn’t look at the nutrition facts if they were up on the menu board just because they are that hungry. In my personal experience, if the facts are posted in a place that I already have to look at to order then I will definitely take a second to consider the facts. It doesn’t mean that people are going to change their minds about what they order but I do think that they will at least look at it. And most people who are that overweight already know that what they are eating is bad for them but many people feel like it’s already too late for them to change their ways.

  2. ecm5293

    Your topic is interesting. I tend to not look at calories unless they are right in front of my face because its a little bit depressing when you see something you love to eat is 1,500 calories. But with that being said if the nutrition facts were right in front of peoples faces I think it would be more beneficial because they would be forced to look at what they are eating.

  3. Azhane Morris

    Kathryn, yes and no. I do think these labels would do some people good, however, for others it wouldn’t matter because unfortunately we live in a world where people enjoy there fast food now and worry about the consequences when it’s way too late. However, not all people would completely ignore this information. I’d like to add, when Andrew showed the video of people leaving their fast food restaurants with huge HUGE jugs of soda, they didn’t look worried they were about to intake 400-600 calories. They see a big cup and compare it to the chump change they paid for it, so it feels like a win-win situation. However, if that cup read 6 extra pounds around your waist line and a double chin within, maybe some folks would think twice.
    I think if nutritional facts were posted some individuals would definitely be turned off, but sorry to say a majority of the world would even bother reading it because they’re that damn hungry. Helpful? Not so much, but great blog!
    Just a personal experience, I worked at Au Bon Pain this semester and we have one of those nutritional screens over in the corner. Sorry girl, but I’VE NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER SEEN ONE SOUL OVER THERE READING ANY FACTS. Not even myself…
    That study however is atrocious. See, the facts don’t matter when your tummy is telling you “you could eat a cow” or you hear how bad fast food is so often you practically ignore those voice and go for the super-size fry!

  4. Larissa Marie Wright

    When going to a fast food restaurant or chain such as the ones being observed in your study, i find myself always looking at the nutrition facts before i order. In fact, I have quite a few of the calorie contents memorized from a few places such as McDonald’s and Starbucks. Because I do this quite often, I was shocked when I read your post to see only six or so people looked at the nutrition facts. It seems accurate to not rule out third variables. I looked further into this and found another study done by the NY Times ( This study shows more customers observing the nutrition facts, however the number of customers looking at them and being affected by them is still incredibly low.

  5. Christopher Vecchio

    This is a great topic. I can completely understand the results of this study. Most people who are going to watch what they eat don’t eat at fast food chains anyway. All the food at fast food places are unhealthy for you but that is not going to stop people from going there. Even now when the calories are posted right on the menu next to what you are ordering it still doesn’t affect what people get. If you ask people before they go into a fast food place what they are going to order, they most likely already know. if you tell them to look at the calorie count of what they order they won’t change their mind more than half the time because most people order the same thing every time they go. Whether the facts are posted or not it will make little to no difference at all.

  6. Jordan David Unsworth

    This is a very interesting topic. I agree that most people go into fast food restaurants with an understanding of what is bad for them and what would be harmful to them. We here the word McDonalds and everyone assumes its automatically bad for you and I agree that it is. Also though I believe if you eat fast food in very small doses it can’t affect you as much as it would if you ate there all the time. I do agree though with Maxine, in that more educated people know what is good and bad for them and know the consequences. I think we need to look at the fast food chains view on this though because I believe it will hurt their business and affect jobs if nutrition facts were more noticeable.

  7. Megan Fleming

    The fact this observational experiment found only 6 people out of 4,311looked at the nutritional facts really surprised me. However, this study had a solid design and the results seem legit. One point you made, “the customers could have already looked up the nutrition facts online and did not need to see them again, but there is no way to tell that” made me wonder if people go into these types of fast food restaurants with an idea of what is healthy and what is not. Perhaps they assume a salad is healthy because it is a salad, when in fact it’s loaded with empty calories and fat. The observational study proved that people did not take advantage of posted nutritional facts. A follow up experiment could be done to find out if people think they have an idea of what is and isn’t healthy on the menu, and if their assumptions are correct.

  8. Alexandra Elizabeth Brooks

    I think this is a good topic to write about because I definitely look at the nutrition facts if they’re posted at restaurants. I think a third variable that would be interesting to measure is women vs. men looking at their nutrition facts before ordering / consumption of food at these restaurants. At the local buffalo wild wings in my hometown (battle creek, Michigan), they added the calorie count to the menus, and they eventually had to take them down because so many people were not ordering their food anymore, and taking their business elsewhere. I know women are definitely more self conscious about their body image and their weight, more so than men anyways, so seeing the amount of men vs. women who looked up the nutrition facts would be a great variable to measure.

  9. Maxine Swift Mcgee

    Did the studies report back any differences between the urban restaurants versus the suburban restaurants? This article,, discusses how city residents tend to be healthier in general which would lead me to believe that they would care more about nutrition facts. While this article conjures about most assumptions and statistics and makes lot of inferences it makes sense. Living in cities tends to cost more, therefore they must have better job positions which typically means the average urban citizen is better educated. People who are better educated are more familiar with what is healthy and what is not. Although that statement was completely inferential I was wondering if possibly this study could back that position up.

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