The US law requiring calorie counts on menus is expected to save tens of thousands of lives and over $10 billion in healthcare costs, research shows
- The US finalized a law requiring chain restaurants to list calorie counts on menus in 2018.
- New research shows that adding calorie counts leads diners to consume 7% fewer
- The study found that on a national scale, the law is expected to prevent 136,000 new cases of
heart diseasecases and about 28,000 early deaths.
- The coronavirus' disproportionate impact on patients with obesity,
diabetes, and heart disease highlights why improving the foodsystem is critical, the researchers said.
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The US finalized a law in 2018 that requires chain restaurants with 20 or more locations to include calorie counts on their menus.
A new study has found that by 2023, the law may have prevented nearly 15,000 new cases of heart disease and about 21,500 diagnoses of Type 2 diabetes.
Previous research has shown that adding calorie counts to menus drives consumers to choose lower-calorie foods. Nationwide, those choices add up to giant public-health benefits over time, the new study found. That also results in healthcare cost savings for the average American.
"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
7% fewer calories per meal
On any given pre-pandemic day, about one-third of American adults ate at a full-service restaurant, and about half ate at a fast-food or quick-service establishment.
The new study simulated what would happen if 1 million American diners from ages 35-80 saw the calorie food labels on menus and cut their restaurant calorie intake accordingly.
The simulation found that diners would consume about 7% fewer calories per meal after seeing the labels (though the researchers assumed in the analysis that about half of these "saved" calories would still get consumed somewhere else, like at home).
Over the average American's lifetime, those food choices would prevent about 136,000 new cases of heart disease and about 28,000 early deaths from heart disease, the study showed. In addition, they could prevent 100,000 cases of Type 2 diabetes.
In total, the researchers found, the law could add 367,450 healthy years of life for Americans.
The law could lead to more than $10 billion in healthcare savings
The new study also revealed healthcare cost savings associated with the calorie law.
The researchers estimated that the dietary changes people make would save between $10-14 billion in healthcare costs in total over the rest of the average American lifetimes simulated (28.4 years).
The researchers also found another $3 to $5 billion in savings in the US economy because better health would cut productivity losses.
If the restaurant industry reformulates some menus towards healthier choices in general, the study noted, potential health gains and cost savings could be even higher.
"Part of the attraction of eating out is pleasure, and our model assumes people will still treat themselves, but the experience can be healthier overall if both diners and the restaurant industry make changes," Thomas Gaziano, another study co-author, said in the release.
The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted how important healthy eating is, the researchers said, because patients with preexisting conditions such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes are developing more severe cases.
"Improving the healthfulness of our food system is crucial, given the pandemic's disproportionate impact on people with diet-related conditions like diabetes and obesity, and further links to health disparities," Mozaffarian said.
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