A new study has suggested that food labels nudge diners to eat healthier.
The Cornell study of food labels in dining halls shows that when people know the calories and fat content in foods, they lean toward healthier fare.
Despite municipal and federal legislation in the pipelines for large restaurants and dining facilities to put labels on their foods, there was very little hard data to show such labels are effective in helping people make healthier food choices, until now.
The study is one of the few definitive studies demonstrating, at least in a university dining hall, that putting calories and fat content on the label on various foods purchased in the dining hall produces a reduction in calories and fat content purchased, said co-author David Levitsky.
The results revealed a 7 percent reduction of mean total calories and total fat purchased per week. Also, the percent of sales of low-fat and low-calories foods increased, while sales of high-calorie and high-fat foods decreased.
The reason we found an effect is we had a tremendous amount of data, Levitsky noted, adding that it's a small but significant effect.
This study demonstrates that small nudges can actually help reduce caloric intake, he said, noting that in this "obesogenic" world, the consumer needs all the help they can get to resist the temptations that the food industry uses to have us increase consumption.
Levitsky added that insisting that food labels be visible on the foods people purchase may be the kind of help people need to resist the epidemic of obesity.
The study is published in the journal Appetite.