Taco Time Customers Unaffected By Calorie Labels, Study Says

Menus listing calorie counts at Taco Time restaurants in Seattle didn’t change customers’ eating habits, according to a study that calls into question plans to implement similar laws across the U.S.

More than a year after a local law took effect, total sales and average calories per transaction at Taco Time restaurants in King County, Washington -- which includes Seattle -- were identical to those at restaurants where the laws didn’t apply, researchers from the Duke-National University of Singapore Graduate Medical School found.

The findings confirm those of a similar study in New York and cast doubt on whether menu-labeling provisions in President Barack Obama’s health-care reform laws will effectively address the U.S. obesity epidemic, said Eric Finkelstein, an associate professor of health services at Duke-NUS who led the study.

“Menu labeling may have a limited impact on both transactions and calories consumed in this type of chain restaurant where menus already highlight health items,” Finkelstein and colleagues wrote.

The King County law, which took effect in January 2009, requires restaurant chains with at least 15 outlets and $1 million or more in annual sales to disclose information about calories, saturated fat, carbohydrates and sodium content for all their food and drink at the point of purchase, including on drive-through menus.

Finkelstein and colleagues studied sales data from seven Taco Time restaurants in King County and seven in surrounding cities from January 2008 to January 2010. They found no significant differences in food purchasing behavior.

Taco Time was the only chain approached by researchers that allowed access to sales data, Finkelstein said. Scottsdale, Arizona-based Kahala Corp., which grants franchises for Taco Time restaurants, didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

The findings were published today in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

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