Diners and scientists wonder: Does food labeling help?

Diners and scientists wonder: Does food labeling help?

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by Keely Chalmers, KGW staff

kgw.com

Posted on February 14, 2011 at 6:49 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 15 at 12:06 PM

PORTLAND -- Health experts have long debated whether nutritional labeling in restaurants helps diners make healthier choices.

Currently, the Federal Food and Drug Administration is drawing up requirements for restaurant chains across the country to add nutritional labeling to their menus. The goal is to help make it easier for Americans to watch their weight.

It’s a move some diners like Shannon Greisen call a waste of money.

"I don't think people care. I think if they’re ready to eat they're going to order what they want whether nutritional or not," said Greisen.

Other diners agree.

"If it’s there I'll read it and look at it and feel bad, but it usually doesn't change my opinion and I don’t think it does for a lot of people," said Alex Bestea of Portland.

A new study by researchers at Seattle-King County Public Health and Duke University compared sales figures at Taco Time restaurants that post nutritional information to those that don't. The study found that the average calories of purchases at both were almost identical.

"I would characterize this study as slightly disappointing," said Dr. Gary Oxman.

Oxman is the public health officer for Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington Counties. He said it comes down to whether people want to change their eating habits.

"Simply labeling menus is just one step," said Oxman.

Still we found some folks who say nutritional information whether it’s on a receipt, in a brochure or up on the menu really does influence their order.

For restaurant patrons like Lisa Achilles, the nutritional labeling dictates where and what she eats.

"For instance here I may not choose to have sauce on that particular sandwich," said Achilles.

Geoff Helzer, general manager of a Southeast Portland Burgerville, said he noticed a definite change in customers' eating habits once the chain started posting calories on receipts.

"People are much more educated about what there are ordering," said Helzer. But he also admits it did take some time for folks to make the change.

So, perhaps when it comes to looking at the nutrition labels and acting on them a healthy serving of time is what we all really need.

Dr. Oxman does point out that other studies have shown that nutritional labeling does make a difference when it comes to eating healthier. He says a lot more studies need to be done before we can truly understand its effectiveness.

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