Nutrition facts posted in fast food restaurants have no bearing on what parents order for their kids, or what teens choose for themselves, a new study shows.


Researchers surveyed 349 children ages 1-17 who dined at fast food restaurants in New York City, and found that nutrition facts posted in the restaurant did not lead to lower-calorie purchases.


The study is called “Child and Adolescent Fast-Food Choice and the Influence of Calorie Labeling: A Natural Experiment,” and was published Feb. 15 in the International Journal of Obesity.


Posting calorie information became mandatory for New York City’s chain restaurants in 2008. That summer, researchers visited McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s, KFC and other fast food chains in New York City’s low-income neighborhoods — both before and after labeling was introduced — to record consumers’ numbers of calories purchased.


The study found that parents did not make a significant reduction in the amount of calories they ordered for their children after nutrition information had been posted.


Out of adolescents surveyed, 57 percent reported noticing the new calorie labeling, but only 16 percent reported that this information influenced their choices when ordering.


Of those who participated in the study, 69 percent of children came in with parents, and 31 came in alone. Ninety percent of the survey participants belonged to racial or ethnic minority groups.


The results of this study, while limited to a small area and population, could have negative implications for the new government mandate that chains nationwide list nutritional information openly, a requirement included in the new healthcare act. The idea behind the mandate is that nutrition labeling will help consumers make healthier decisions when ordering food, a result the study shows may not necessarily be guaranteed.


“Labeling isn’t going to be enough by itself to change obesity in a large-scale way,” says Brian Elbel, a professor at New York University, Wagner and co-author of the study. “This reinforces that if it does have an impact it’s not going to be enough.”

Whether what goes on the wall affects what goes on the tray in other regions of the country remains to be seen, but studies suggest that the low impact of nutrition labeling is likely to be a recurring pattern. While adults in other studies were slightly more responsive to newly posted nutritional information than the adolescents and children in this study, neither group has shown a significant reduction in calorie count since new labels have appeared.


Elbel says he and other researchers have begun studying fast food choices in Philidelphia, where nutrition labeling was recently introduced. The study includes a wider demographic, in order to see if the same results are obtained on a larger scale, beyond low-income families.

  • Well duuuuuuh. For 2 years now, people calling themselves “proud Liberals” have been anything but liberal in allowing people to make their own choices on how to live and how to raise their children. This experiment was foisted on the public in New York and proved (big surprise to the rest of us…) to go *FLOP*. Finding out about their fail, and providing quotes such as, “We…we are STUNNED! We thought people would do what we told them to! Well, now we’ll just have to make laws to make sure they do!” Oh yes, very liberal…. We don’t CARE. No laws will MAKE us care. Mind your own business. We KNOW “research” is out there, but it changes every week when medical science and general science just DOESN’T KNOW because it can’t. You’re generalizing independent life forms into one big batch you feel you can dictate to. Wipe those pursed lipped, snotty, superior falsehoods off your faces and GET it. We don’t care about dictating your falsehoods to other people, we’ll handle it ourselves. Stay OUT of my life, my children’s lives and THEIR children’s lives. If you feel you must “do” something for society and people, act like a human and go feed a starving child. Find a place for a family to live in warm safety instead of freezing to the sidewalks and having to be scraped off. Your egos don’t impress us. Your pseudo-Liberal falsehoods don’t impress us. Your babysitting definitely doesn’t impress us. Live YOUR life, let us live OURS.

  • People shouldn’t have to spend 20 minutes calculating what they should or should not eat. People eat fast food because it was the most convienient option. But now there is a website called where people can join a neighborhood meal swap team where each team member cooks one dish in bulk a week and meets with all their other team members to exchange food. After the swap everyone returns home with quality meals ready to eat all week. People don’t needfast food or processed foods anymore.

  • Doc Mudd

    In keeping with the new commenting policy (i.e. basically ‘if you can’t say something nice…’) I am pleased to say I sincerely agree with Illbegotten1 in every particular. Congratulations are in order for a common sentiment so uncommonly well-expressed.
    The exquisite frustration of being relentlessly accosted by smug overbearing self-annointed food police has seldom been so clearly and concisely voiced. Right down to the vivid description of facial expression, the prose is wonderfully accurate and thought provoking. Well done!
    I heartily thank Illbegotten1 for so clearly expressing that which cannot be too often or too starkly stated.
    Thank you, thank you sir or madam. Your well-chosen words are a genuine inspiration to every common citizen who is beyond fed-up with the pretentious cuckolding of misguided orthorexic busybodies.

  • While I agree these data may be disappointing, I disagree with the author’s characterization of this as completely negative. That 16 percent of teens did change their orders based on the nutrition information bodes well for the future. Personally, I have been in NY since the fall and find the calorie counts helpful and unobtrusive. Seeing that the McDonald’s 2-for-1 Sausage McMuffin special has 900 calories should give people pause before ordering. Give it time.
    For those who complain about government interference, there is a substantial difference between government banning certain foods or ingredients and simply requiring consumers to be informed. Many other countries have had strong consumer education programs for years without cries of foul – and with measurable health benefits. A healthier U.S. population would mean you and I could pay less tax and personal money for health care.