According to Study, Menus Could Use More Traffic Lights

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The Federal Food and Drug Administration will soon require fast-food chains and other restaurants to clearly label the calorie totals for all menu items.

While the policy will be implemented to better inform consumers of what they’re eating, reading through numbered lists isn’t exactly any easier than blindly choosing based on pictures and names alone.

However, a recent study by the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania offers a simpler, three-color method to more accurately shame us out of ordering that 20-count order of chicken nuggets.

Using a technique dubbed “Traffic light calorie counting,” the study placed small traffic lights alongside the names and prices of particular meal options on an online menu. A green light indicated that the item was low in calories, while a red showed a higher count.

Researchers compared order results between one menu featuring the traffic lights, one featuring actual calorie numbers, one featuring both and one without any calorie info at all. Out of the 249 participants, those ordering from the menus with calorie info ordered 10 percent less calories than those who did not.

“The similar effects of traffic light and numeric labeling suggests to us that consumers are making decisions based more on which choices seem healthier than on absolute calorie numbers,” said lead author of the study Dr. Eric M. VanEpps.

Perhaps this particular visual calorie counter method could aid in expediting the fast food industry’s desire to clean itself up.

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