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A new study published in the open-access journal BMJ Open suggests that indicating the calorie count for every item on restaurant menus may reduce the incidence of obesity-related cancers and healthcare expenses in the United States.

Policy needed for restaurants to indicate calorie counts on menus

According to the research, a policy requiring calorie information on restaurant menus could prevent several cases of cancer and deaths and save billions of dollars in healthcare costs. Obesity is a known risk factor for around 13 cancer types, and related cancers account for 40% of newly diagnosed cases and 43.5% of cancer care expenses. In addition, the researchers suggest that further food industry reformulation could enhance the policy’s impact.

The US Affordable Care Act requires chain restaurants with 20 or more outlets to display calorie counts for standard menu items. Although this policy could prevent type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, its effect on obesity-related cancers has not been examined. Restaurant meals account for a significant portion of US adults’ calorie consumption.

Researchers utilized the Diet and Cancer Outcome model (DiCOM) to determine a policy’s effect on reducing obesity-related cancer rates and costs in the US. DiCOM is a health model that considers four health states and considers changes in health and their impact on outcomes and costs. The simulation involved 235 million US adults over their lifetime starting from 2015 and utilized national demographic, dietary intake, health, economic, and industry data sources.

Calorie counts affect people with higher education levels

In 2015-2016, the average age of US adults was 48, with almost two-thirds being of non-Hispanic white ethnicity and 71% being overweight or obese. On average, adults consumed 332 calories daily from restaurants, with younger individuals, men, and those of non-Hispanic black or Hispanic ethnicity consuming more calories.

The study does not evaluate the real-world impact of policy implementation on health and economic outcomes. The researchers acknowledge that menu calorie counts might affect people with higher incomes and education levels more. The study only models the impact of calorie labeling on calories, not nutritional quality.