Calorie counts have become a staple of restaurant menus – and new research shows that this information has potentially saved the lives and wallets of thousands of Americans.
The Tufts University study, published Tuesday in the journal BMJ Open, found that calorie counting prevented at least 28,000 obesity-related cancer cases and 16,700 cancer deaths over the course of a life, while saving $2.8 billion in health care and social costs.
“It’s important for us to continue to show consumers, policymakers and industry how small changes can lead to big benefits,” lead author and Ph.D. candidate Mengxi Du said in a statement. communicated.
“Our population-level perspective suggests that these labels may be associated with substantial health gains and savings in cancer-related healthcare costs that could be doubled with additional industry response, such as replacing high-calorie menu items with low-calorie options or reformulating recipes.”
Dining out at restaurants is a favorite activity for many, especially those in the Big Apple, but these meals — which are often loaded with saturated fat, added sugars and unwanted calories — account for one in five calories consumed by American adults. , the researchers determined. .
About 40% of new cancer diagnoses are believed to be related to obesity, contributing to more than 43% of the direct costs of cancer care. These numbers are reduced when the calorie count is accessible, the study authors found.
NYC began requiring restaurant chains to display calorie data on their menus in 2008. Federal rules for restaurant chains went into effect in 2018.
“I think people would like to see the calorie count when they go to a restaurant – even if the menus don’t provide complete nutritional information, it helps us all to do quick calculations on the foods we are about to eat. to buy,” Du said.
To build its model, the Tufts research team used cancer statistics, as well as data from a national survey of 235 million American adults over the age of 20 from 2015 to 2016.
Scientists observed that young adults between the ages of 20 and 44 benefited the most physically and financially from the information, but the study authors acknowledged the need for greater awareness.
“People with a higher level of education or income know what information is on menu labels and how to understand it, but we need to make efforts in educating underrepresented, low-income or at-risk communities, because we still see some disparities,” Du explained.
The research – part of Food Policy Review and Intervention Cost-Effectiveness, an initiative funded by the National Institutes of Health – coincides with the rise of cancer in young people.
The Tufts study offers evidence to support labeling menu items with calorie information nationwide, said Fang Fang Zhang, lead study author and cancer epidemiologist.
Since the model showed that moving can “reduce the risk of being obese and of contracting obesity-associated cancer”, it has the potential to improve quality of life.
Although obesity is on the rise around the world – and is expected to rise further – critics wonder if the guilt-ridden numbers next to fan-favorite dishes are doing more harm than good.
Some argue that this further fuels food culture and, in turn, eating disorders. Experts told Eater last year that visible calorie counts can inspire people to overcome disordered eating habits.
Registered dietitian Amanda Villescas told the outlet that people “feel compelled to choose a low-calorie menu option” when they read the countdown in fine print next to the desired meal, which may “invoke subtle or strong feelings of guilt”.
“It’s also kind of sad to think that food, connection, and/or joy could be lost in a person’s restaurant experience by seeing what measured energy data is associated with an appealing restaurant dish or favorite. ,” she says.