A team of researchers has suggested that numbers or graphics can encourage diners to eat less.
To encourage consumers to lower their caloric intake, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration now requires most chain restaurants to state the number of calories that each menu item contains. But it is not the only effective way of helping diners make low-calorie choices.
According to the study, another popular way of indicating calorie information, an image of a green, yellow, or red traffic light, can be just as effective.
The authors Eric M. VanEpps (Carnegie Mellon University), Julie S. Downs (Carnegie Mellon University), and George Loewenstein (Carnegie Mellon University) wrote that they found that either numbers or traffic lights have the same beneficial effect when it comes to taking in fewer calories, adding that in the particular study, either method resulted in food choices that contained 10 percent fewer calories.
The study provides the most promising evidence to date that providing calorie information, either through numbers or icons such as traffic lights, encourages diners to take in fewer calories.
Although providing calorie information in the form of numbers may seem like the best option, policymakers should consider that not all consumers are adept at interpreting numbers. “For those consumers, traffic light labels can communicate basic ‘eat this, not that’ information regardless of their understanding of the underlying nutrients or ability to use numeric information,” the authors write.
The study appears in the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing.