In 2014, United States FDA published a new menu labeling rule in order to help consumers make informed and healthier dietary choices. Under the rule, certain types of foodestablishments including chain restaurants (with 20 or more locations) shall list calorie information for standard menu items on menus and menu boards and a succinct statement about suggested daily caloric intake.Total caloriesandcalories from fat shall be listed out. Other nutrient information-total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, fiber, sugars, and protein -will have to be made available in writing on request.
Impact of Menu Labeling
Krieger et al. (2013) demonstrated that menu labeling regulations can increase customer awareness and use of calorie information, and suggest that provision of nutrition information on menus leads to healthier purchases. For example, after 18 months post-implementation of a menu labeling regulation in King County of Washington, a modest decrease (38 kcal) was observed in caloric content of foods and beverages purchased, particularly among women and patrons of taco and coffee chains. This may help to prevent obesity.
However, the impact of menu labeling on calories purchases is still inconclusive because the findings are mixed results. For example, there was no change in the proportion among those seeing calories who used this information (about one third).
The incomplete awareness and use of labels are possibly because the current format of menu labeling may not be optimal. Customers may not use caloric information due to lack of interest or limited customer understanding because of low literacy and numeracy. Instead, simpler labels, such as color-coded symbols or listing menu items in order of caloric content (starting with the lowest), might increase the impact.
Is Menu Labeling Necessary in Hong Kong?
In recent years, restaurant nutrition labeling has already received considerable media, legislative and industry attention globally. Much of the interest has been due to an increase in obesity in adults and children over the last few decades, and the amount of food dollars spent by consumers away from home during a similar period increased.
Hong Kong, just like other developed countries such as United States, faces the same situation. Hong Kong already has a nutrition labeling regulation for most prepackaged food since 2010, information including energy, protein, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, carbohydrates, sugars and sodium must be disclosed, in an attempt to help improving consumer dietary choices of prepackaged food. Now it’s time to step up to require compulsory menu labeling at large chain restaurants, in order to combat the growing trend of obesity and enable the citizen to make a healthier dietary choices while eating out.