Low-Calorie Menus and Bad Food Choices
“Low-calorie” menus may not be so healthy after all, because they can lead people to eliminate good foods right away, a new study shows.
“People have come to expect low-calorie food to taste bad or not fill them up,” write authors Jeffrey R. Parker (Georgia State University) and Donald R. Lehmann (Columbia University). “We propose that by calorie organizing a menu, restaurants make it easier for people to use the general ‘low-calorie’ label to dismiss all low-calorie options early in the decision process.”
In four online studies, the authors asked participants to order food from menus similar to those of well-known chain restaurants. Some participants were shown traditional menus that listed available dishes in food-type categories (with no calorie information). Another set of participants was given the same menu but with calories listed, while the third got a men with calorie information but with dishes sorted by calories and given a low-calorie section label.
The results showed that the participants who were given the traditional menus without any calorie information and the menus with the low-calorie food grouped together ordered food with similar amounts of calories. Interestingly, the participants who ordered from the calorie-labeled (but not grouped) menus ordered meals with fewer calories.
“When a menu is calorie posted but not calorie organized, it is less likely that the caloric content of the dishes will be used as an initial filter for eliminating large portions of the menu,” the authors wrote. “For the consumer, this means that you are more likely to consider ordering a low-calorie dish and also more likely to eat it.”
The findings were published in the Journal of Consumer Research.