BOSTON (June 9, 2020, 9:00 a.m. EDT)—The national law requiring chain restaurants to include calorie labels on menus is estimated to prevent tens of thousands of new heart disease and type 2 diabetes cases—and save thousands of lives—in just five years, according to a new study estimating the law’s impact.
The model also estimated that the law would produce $10-14 billion in healthcare cost savings and another $3-5 billion in societal cost savings, such as from prevented lost productivity, over a lifetime.
The study simulates what would happen if one million hypothetical Americans, aged 35-80, cut their calorie intake moderately while dining out, after making healthier choices based on the labels. The research, published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, was led by researchers at the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The analysis estimated that beginning in 2018, when the law was implemented, until 2023, healthier consumer menu choices would:
- Prevent 14,698 new cases of heart disease (including 1, 575 deaths)
- Prevent 21,522 new type 2 diabetes cases
- Add 8,749 years of life (in good health)
When calculated over a lifetime, the analysis estimated better consumer menu choices would:
- Prevent 135,781 new heart disease cases (including 27,646 deaths)
- Prevent 99,736 type 2 diabetes cases
- Add 367,450 years of life (in good health)
“Prior to COVID-19, Americans were relying on restaurants for one in five calories, on average. Most likely, we will come to rely on them again. Our study shows that menu calorie labeling may prevent meaningful disease and save billions of dollars in healthcare costs,” said Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School. Mozaffarian is co-first author of the study along with Junxiu Liu, a postdoctoral scholar at the Friedman School.
The simulation estimated, based on prior interventional studies of food labeling, that menu calorie labeling would lead consumers toward lower calorie choices, resulting in a modest 7 percent fewer calories eaten at any average restaurant meal. The researchers conservatively assumed that half of these “saved” calories from each restaurant meal would be offset by additional calories unconsciously consumed by the consumer elsewhere, for example, at home.
“We also found that menu calorie labeling could help reduce health disparities, with larger benefits among Hispanics and Blacks and people with obesity,” said Renata Micha, co-last author and associate research professor at the Friedman School.