Adding 'Traffic Lights' To Menus Means Consuming Fewer Calories: Study

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Hmm, would a red traffic light on a menu make you skip dessert? | JGI/Jamie Grill via Getty Images

While some restaurants in Ontario will start posting calories on menus in 2017, a new study suggests a simple traffic light beside food items will steer you to make healthier choices.

According to research from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, adding traffic lights to menus could cut calorie consumption by 10 per cent. The study, which was published in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, was done over a six-week period with 803 orders and 249 participants.

“Calorie labelling appears to be effective in an online environment where consumers have fewer distractions, and the simpler traffic-light labeling seems as effective as standard calorie numbers,” lead author Eric M. VanEpps said in a statement.

traffic light calories

In the U.S., restaurants, movie theatres and vending machines will all require calories marked on their food and drink items starting May 2017. Some states like New York have already started this process at restaurants.

And of course, seeing a scary red label next to those burgers and fries may persuade you to get a salad instead, but VanEpps' research suggests any type of warning sign (including just putting a calorie amount in numbers) will work.

“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," he noted.

And while this study was conducted with employees ordering lunch from a specially-designed portal, for a lot of us, eating unhealthy and racking up those calories often happens when we eat out.

If you're the type of person who regularly buys lunch or dinner, saying no to bread (we know, this sucks), ordering dressings on the side and combining appetizers are all good ways to cut back.

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