A recent study claims that teenagers notice but ultimately disregard calorie counts on fast-food menu boards, ordering the same number of calories as they did before New York City’s mandatory labeling laws took effect. B. Ebel, et al., “Child and adolescent fast-food choice and the influence of calorie labeling: a natural experiment,” International Journal of Obesity, February 2011. In a follow-up to a 2009 study, New York University researchers collected survey and receipt data from “349 children and adolescents aged 1–17 years who visited the restaurants with their parents (69%) or alone (31%) before or after labeling was introduced.”
The findings evidently showed “no statistically significant differences in calories purchased before and after labeling,” although 9 percent of the subjects reported that calorie information influenced their purchasing decisions. In addition, 70 percent said that taste, followed by cost, was the most important factor in their choices, and the majority underestimated the energy content of their selections by up to 466 calories. As the study authors concluded, “Adolescents in low-income communities notice calorie information at similar rates as adults, although they report being slightly less responsive to it than adults. We did not find evidence that labeling influenced adolescent food choice or parental food choices for children in this population.” See The New York Times, February 15, 2011.