Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16731 Influence of Calorie Labeling On Patrons of Fast Food Restaurants In Los Angeles

Saturday, January 14, 2012: 8:30 AM
Independence E (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Jazmin I. Zane, MSW, Graduate Student Researcher, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Robert Schilling, PhD, Professor, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
BACKGROUND: In 2009, SB 1420 was signed into California law, mandating restaurants with 20 or more locations to post calorie and nutritional information on indoor menu boards by January 1, 2011. One purpose of SB 1420 is to help Californians “make more informed, healthier choices.” The assumption is that customers will notice, read, understand, and act on posted nutritional information as they order their meals in fast food establishments. The present study sought to understand the initial feasibility and validity of the underlying assumption of this new law with respect to the fast food item choices of individuals in lower-income ethnic communities in Greater Los Angeles County. Additional purposes of the study were to describe the accuracy of patrons' estimates of the calories in their meal selections, and to identify demographic, food selection, and other predictors of calories purchased. The following research questions were posed: 1.What impact, if any, will nutrition labeling have on fast food consumers of lower-income ethnic communities? 2.Do fast food patrons underestimate, overestimate, or accurately estimate the total amount of calories in their purchases? 3.What are the predictors of high-caloric orders among fast food consumers in a lower-income ethnic community?

METHODS: During the summer of 2010, baseline data were collected from 287 participants at two fast food restaurants located in a predominately African-American community approximately ten miles southwest of downtown Los Angeles. Both restaurants had nutrition information posted on walls, but not on the menu board. Potential participants were approached as they were about to enter the venue, and asked if they would complete a brief survey and provide their purchase receipt. For each respondent, caloric intake was calculated by adding the calories from each item on the receipt, based on calorie information posted on the restaurant's website. Data were analyzed in STATA, using linear regression, Friedman test, and descriptive analyses.

RESULTS: Two-thirds (68.50%) of the participants were African-American, with a mean age of 44.42 (SD=15.53). Men (49.08%) and women (50.92%) were equally represented. Most (68.63%) participants did not notice the nutrition postings. Participants consumed fast food approximately three times (SD=2.78) within the past week. When responses were grouped into categories with respect to calories purchased versus estimated, 32.23% of the participants underestimated the total calories in their order. Patrons who noticed nutrition information were significantly more likely to order lower calorie meals. Individuals who either underestimated or correctly estimated their total calories were more likely to order high calorie meals.

CONCLUSIONS: Although conducted in a single large community, results from the present study may generalize to urban lower-income African-American fast food patrons. Most fast food consumers are reasonably accurate in estimating the calories in food purchases. Patrons who notice nutrition postings tend to order fewer calories. Findings suggest that labeled menus may encourage participants to purchase fewer calories. Social workers should influence programs and policies affecting the health of populations at risk for obesity-related disorders.