Are Calorie Counts on Menus Pointless?

A new poll shows many Americans say “yes.”

A new Gallup poll found that a majority of Americans pay little to no attention to nutritional information on restaurant menus. Those polled are more likely to consult nutrition labels on food packages instead. Photograph via Shutterstock.

Every Monday at Well+Being we break down the nutritional content of popular lunch spots in DC. We’ve learned to stay away from certain calorie bombs at everywhere from Chipotle to Chop’t, and to order the healthier salad or sandwich instead. But according to new research, it seems a majority of Americans can agree on one thing: Calorie counts on restaurant menus are worthless.

In a recent Gallup poll, just 43 percent of Americans say they pay attention to calorie counts on restaurant menus, and 55 percent said they pay little attention or completely ignore the menus’ nutritional information.

Instead, those polled said they were more likely to consult nutrition labels on food packages over menus. In general, women pay more attention to nutritional information on both labels and menus over men.

The results come on the heels of the Affordable Care Act, which requires restaurants with more than 20 locations to provide nutritional information on their menus. Yet various studies in recent months have found that although many major restaurants already include nutritional information on their menus, it doesn’t change what patrons ultimately order. A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health in May found that adolescents consumed just as many calories at Subway as they would at McDonald’s, despite Subway being marketed as the healthier choice. 

The results from the Gallup poll confirm that the verdict is still out on whether nutritional information on menus actually help Americans choose healthier options. Researchers noted that one reason Americans pay more attention to nutrition labels on food packages than menus is that they tend to treat themselves when eating out.

The full results are available at Gallup’s website