Calorie labeling requirements that came into effect for menus in U.S. restaurant chains in 2018 could save tens of thousands of lives and billions of dollars in healthcare costs. So says a study in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

Researchers created a simulation model to assess what would happen if the labeling rule led to a moderate 5% reduction in calories consumed during an average restaurant meal among 1 million Americans ages 35–80.

Over a lifetime, having this resource available to make more calorie-conscious menu choices could head off an estimated 135,781 new cases of heart disease and 99,736 cases of type 2 diabetes, while adding 367,450 years of life (in good health), researchers concluded. That would save more than $10 billion in healthcare expenses and nearly $13 billion in lost productivity and other costs to society.

Notably, the Tufts University investigators assumed that half of the saved restaurant calories would be offset by additional calories consumed by diners elsewhere, including at home. If restaurants continue to reformulate their menus to offer more dishes made with lower-calorie ingredients and smaller portion sizes, then disease rates and health costs could drop further.

Do you believe these restaurant-menu calorie counts are as effective as this research concludes? Do you use this information to make food choices when eating out? What other nutrition information would you like to see included on menus? Should this labeling requirement also apply to nonchain restaurants?

Send your answers to Sandy Todd Webster at [email protected]

See also: Energy Menu-Labeling Strategy Could Be a Breakthrough
Navigating Restaurant Menus