University of Maryland

College of Agriculture & Natural Resources

Men, Youth Less Likely to Count Calories UMD Survey Finds

Survey sheds light on law requiring restaurants to post calorie content

Women in Montgomery County, Md. are almost twice as likely as men to read nutrition information posted on restaurant menus before ordering and people between the ages of 18 and 24 show no interest in learning more about what’s in their food. Those are among the findings of an informal survey recently completed by the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) -- a program administered by University of Maryland Extension and the Department of Nutrition and Food Science.

The independent survey was requested by the Montgomery County Council, which passed a resolution requiring large chain establishments in the county to post the number of calories for any standard menu item starting in July of 2010. Many communities across the country have implemented similar measures in an effort to encourage consumers to make healthier food choices while dining out.

A total of 129 customers were interviewed for the survey in 23 different restaurants located throughout Montgomery County including Five Guys, IHOP, McDonald’s, Panera, Popeyes, Starbucks, Subway and Taco Bell/KFC. Results showed less than than one-third of customers (32 %) read the nutrition information, nearly all of whom reported that it influenced their meal choices. Women (41%) were more likely to read the nutrition information than men (23 %) and customers aged 25-39 were the most likely to read the information to decide what to order. By contrast, none of the 19 customers aged 18-24 stated they had read the information before deciding what to order. Patrons dining with children reported using the information more than others.

“This county-wide survey, combined with studies completed in other communities, demonstrates a growing interest in restaurant menu labeling as a way to make healthier choices,” the survey states. “With Americans eating more meals outside the home, it seems important to find ways to make this information more useful and to encourage customers to compare menu options.”

EFNEP Director and Extension Specialist Mira Mehta, PhD, developed the survey along with Linda Ashburn, a coordinator and multi-county supervisor for EFNEP and Kavitha Sankavaram, an EFNEP administrative assistant. Undergraduate students from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources conducted the interviews. The group plans to hold a discussion with leaders in Montgomery County this fall to talk about the possible implications of the survey's findings on public health policy. EFNEP is a program that brings together federal, state and local resources to teach limited-income families and youth about healthy eating and physical activity.

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