Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Eating Healthy When Eating Out

Americans eat out a lot, which is a problem for those attempting to eat a healthy diet. In a grocery store, foods are labeled with calorie and nutrition information. Restaurant food does not come with a label—but it will. The Affordable Care Act requires restaurants with 20 or more locations to post on their menu the calorie content of each item, with nutrition information available for the asking.

Some restaurants already provide this information. So the USDA surveyed the public to see who noticed these early efforts and to establish a baseline for measuring the impact of the ACA requirements. The survey found few customers noticing food labels, but many of those who did used the information when ordering food. Among the 90 percent of Americans who ate at a fast-food/pizza restaurant in the past 12 months, only 22 percent noticed nutrition information on the menu. Among those who noticed, a substantial 42 percent used it when ordering.

Who is most likely to notice and use restaurant food labels? Not surprisingly, it is those who self-report their diet health as excellent. Twenty-eight percent of those with excellent diet health noticed nutrition labeling versus 20 percent of those who self-report their diet health as poor. Among people who noticed, those with excellent diet health were much more likely than those with poor diet health to use the information when ordering (53 versus 31 percent).

As food labeling becomes widespread, it's likely that more Americans will take notice and act on the information to lower their calorie intake and improve their diet. As restaurants respond, it may become easier to eat healthy when eating out.

Source: USDA, Economic Research Service, Consumers' Use of Nutrition Information When Eating Out, Economic Information Bulletin, June 2014

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