CONTEXT: Evidence that menu labeling influences food choices in real-life settings is lacking. Reviews usually focus on calorie counts without addressing broader issues related to healthy eating.
OBJECTIVE: This systematic review assessed the influence of diverse menu-labeling formats on food choices in real-life settings.
DATA SOURCES:Several databases were searched: Cochrane Library, Scopus, MEDLINE, Web of Science, Food Science and Technology Abstracts, Biological Abstracts, CAB Abstracts, EconLit, SciELO, and LILACS.
STUDY SELECTION: Articles reporting experiments, quasi-experiments, and observational studies using control or preintervention groups were selected blindly by two reviewers.
DATA EXTRACTION: Data was extracted using a standard form. Analyses differentiated between foodservice types. The quality of the 38 included studies was assessed blindly by two reviewers.
DATA ANALYSIS: The results were mixed, but a partial influence of menu labeling on food choices was more frequent than an overall influence or no influence. Menu labeling was more effective in cafeterias than in restaurants. Qualitative information, such as healthy-food symbols and traffic-light labeling, was most effective in promoting healthy eating. In general, the studies were of moderate quality and did not use control groups.
CONCLUSIONS: Calorie labeling in menus is not effective to promote healthier food choices. Further research in real-life settings with control groups should test diverse qualitative information in menu labeling.