How Many Calories in that Kids Meal?

Fast food nutrition labels may help parents pick lower-calorie meals for kids.

ByABC News
January 25, 2010, 12:35 PM

Jan. 25, 2010— -- Putting nutrition labels on fast food may lead parents to pick lower-calorie meals for their children, researchers say.

In a small study, parents ordered about 20 percent fewer calories for their kids when they chose from a menu with nutrition information on it, Dr. Pooja Tandon of the University of Washington and colleagues reported online in the journal Pediatrics.

"One hundred calories over time and at a population level is actually a significant amount in terms of being able to avert weight gain," Tandon told MedPage Today.

Many fast-food restaurants don't provide nutrition information at the point of purchase. In a recent study, just about half -- 54 percent -- of the largest chains made some nutritional information available on site.

Labels have long been advocated as a means of lowering calorie consumption. So to determine whether nutrition labeling specifically on fast-food menus would lead to lower-calorie choices for children, the researchers conducted a randomized, controlled experiment in a primary care pediatric clinic in Seattle.

Parents of children ages 3 to 6 were given a McDonald's menu, and then asked to pick out meals for themselves and their child.

The menus were identical, with one exception: those given to parents in the intervention group included nutrition information, while the menus given to parents in the control group had none. The menus did include prices for both groups.

A total of 99 parents participated between October 2008 and January 2009. Some 62 percent reported eating fast food one to four times over the previous month, mostly because it was quick, cheap or fun.

The researchers found that parents who were given nutritional information ordered an average of 102 fewer calories for their kids than did controls -- 567.1 calories for those who saw calorie counts, compared to 671.5 calories for those who did not.

On average, the nutrition-labeled menu reduced total calories ordered by 20 percent, the researchers wrote.