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Informed Diners Eat Fewer Calories

Diners consume far fewer calories at dinner and afterward when the calorie content of entrees is listed on the menus along with information on how many calories they should consume in a day, a new study shows.

Researchers at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University recruited 303 adults and invited them to have a dinner with lots of different restaurant menu options.

The diners were divided into three groups.

- One was given menus with the calories listed for the dinner entrees.

- Another group was given menus that cited the calories plus a reference number that showed the recommended daily caloric intake for the average adult: about 2,000.

- A third group had menus with no calories listed.

The researchers tracked the calories the diners consumed at their dinners and later asked them about the foods they had eaten after dinner.

Findings of the study, which appears online in the American Journal of Public Health:

The diners who saw the calorie label and the 2,000-calorie reference consumed the least, both at dinner and afterward - eating about 1,380 at dinner and during the evening. That compares with about 1,630 calories for both the no-calorie label group and the calorie-label group.

That's a difference of about 250 calories.

Lead author Christina Roberto, a researcher with the Rudd Center, says that this calorie savings at one meal would add up over time and could have a substantial effect on people's weight over the course of a year.

"The reason menu labeling is so important is decisions in restaurants are not intuitive," she says. "At a lot of chain restaurants, some of the salads have more calories than the burgers."

The calorie label plus 2,000-calorie reference keeps diners in check at the meal and later, says Kelly Brownell, director of Yale's Rudd Center.

It's "crystal clear" that menus should include both the calories and the 2,000-reference number to make it easier for consumers to make healthful choices, he says.

"If we know the calories in a box of cereal or bag of Cheetos, we should know the calories in restaurant food," he says.

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