Americans consume approximately 1/3 of their daily calories away from home; many are consumed in restaurants and at fast-food chains. In recent years, policymakers have focused on menu calorie labeling as a way to combat obesity.

As a result of growing pressure, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced new rules that will require fairly extensive calorie labeling nationwide, including at chain restaurants. (You’ll also see this requirement roll out in movie theaters, bakeries, and coffee chains. Labeling information will also be included on vending machines). Many nutrition experts think these new rules may represent a step in the right direction in the nation’s battle against obesity.

Hit mute. Emily Oster, an economist at Brown University, has written a piece for 538 about the FDA menu labeling effort and its effect on changing eating habits. The piece focuses on how many calories people buy as opposed to how many calories people eat. In her article, Oster provides a very useful summary of key research studies on the subject, with hyperlinks back to the original work (which includes a National Institutes of Health study, etc.). Based on the research, Oster posits that labeling efforts won’t be nearly as successful as some think in changing behavior (and thus, reducing obesity).

“What does [the research] mean for the success of the FDA labeling effort? It seems plausible that some subset of individuals at some restaurant locations will decrease their calorie intake. In fact, this seems almost certain.

On the other hand, if the idea is that these changes will drastically affect obesity in low-income populations eating at fast-food chains, the evidence doesn’t support this hope.”

This article is worth reading. The hyper-linked studies represent a great bibliography of current research on this topic.

Learn more about how the labeling program will work by reading this Voxxi article.