Home » Menu Calorie Labels Can Save Thousands of Lives

Menu Calorie Labels Can Save Thousands of Lives

by Mahmmod Shar

Eglė Krištopaitytė

A model designed by Tufts University researchers suggest that implementing menu calorie labels can save billions in healthcare costs in the United States.

One-fifth of the calories U.S. adults consume come from restaurant meals that often include added sugars and saturated fats. The previous analyses show that the 2018 implementation of menu calorie labels helps to cut caloric intake by 20 to 60 calories per meal out.

The modeling study published in the journal BMJ Open indicates that menu calorie labels can prevent at least 28,000 obesity-associated cancer cases and 16,700 cancer deaths over a lifetime. This could also save a combined $2.8 billion in net healthcare and societal costs.

The researchers used available national nutritional survey data gathered from U.S. adults aged 20 and older between 2015 to 2016 and integrated the national cancer statistics. Then they modeled how likely Americans will develop 13 obesity-related cancers and estimated the following burden on the healthcare system.

The model assumed that menu calorie labels lead to one pound of weight loss per year without further weight loss. The policy was found to have the most significant benefits to young adults ages 20 to 44 who are disproportionately affected by the rise of obesity-associated cancers and Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black individuals.

“Our population-level view suggests that these labels can be associated with substantial health gains and cancer-related healthcare cost savings that could be doubled with additional industry response, such as by replacing high-calorie menu items with lower-calorie options or reformulating recipes,” says lead author Mengxi Du, a Ph.D. candidate in Nutrition Epidemiology and Data Science at the Friedman School.

Obesity can cause long-lasting inflammation in the body and increase the levels of insulin, insulin-like growth factor, and sex hormones. The most common obesity-associated cancers are breast cancer in women after menopause, while men with obesity are most likely to develop colorectal cancer.

The 2018 policy mandated by the Affordable Care Act requires all chain restaurants with 20 or more outlets to label calories on the menu. A previous study published in AHA Journals estimated that it could prevent 14,698 new cases of cardiovascular disease, including 1,575 deaths and 21,522 new type 2 diabetes mellitus cases over the five years, with more significant health gains over a lifetime.

Menu calorie labeling is a cost-effective policy that helps consumers to make healthier meal choices and, as a result, reduces the risk of obesity-associated cancers.

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