New evidence published in the Cochrane Library shows that nutritional labelling on menus may reduce a person’s calorie intake.

Researchers found that labelling on menus in restaurants led to a reduction of 47 calories purchased. They said assuming an average meal of 600 kcal, labelling on menus would reduce the number of calories purchased per meal by 7.8%.

The team of Cochrane researchers brought together results of 28 studies evaluating the effects of nutritional labels on purchasing and consumption in a systematic review.

The team reviewed the evidence to establish whether and by how much nutritional labels on food or non-alcoholic drinks affect the amount of food or drink people choose, buy, eat or drink. They considered studies in which the labels had to include information on the nutritional or calorie content of the food or drink. They excluded those including only logos (e.g. ticks or stars), or interpretative colours (e.g. 'traffic light' labelling) to indicate healthier and unhealthier foods.

However, the authors stressed that the quality of evidence reviewed was “low” and they were only “tentatively” suggesting that nutritional labelling on menus in restaurants could be used as part of a wider set of measures to tackle obesity. They called for more high quality evidence to strengthen the findings.

The Review's lead author, Professor Theresa Marteau, Director of the Behaviour and Health Research Unit at the University of Cambridge, UK, says: "This evidence suggests that using nutritional labelling could help reduce calorie intake and make a useful impact as part of a wider set of measures aimed at tackling obesity," She added, "There is no 'magic bullet' to solve the obesity problem, so while calorie labelling may help, other measures to reduce calorie intake are also needed."

Commenting of the review Geoff Ogle, Chief Executive at Food Standards Scotland said: “We welcome this Cochrane review, which suggests that including calories on menus could reduce a person’s calorie intake by an average of 8%.

“This supports findings included in our recently updated Situation Report: The Scottish Diet, it needs to change which found that  66% of us agree that cafes and restaurants should display calorie information.

“As well as providing information for consumers buying food in cafes and restaurants, we believe nutrition labelling could also encourage businesses to reformulate their products so they contain less calories.

“While many larger cafés and restaurants do provide calorie information, it can be more difficult for smaller businesses to do the same.  For this reason, Food Standards Scotland has piloted a free web-based calorie calculator, called MenuCal, to help small businesses in Scotland to put calories on their menus.

“We know that food and drink consumed outside the home in Scotland is skewed towards less healthy products such as sugar sweetened drinks and speciality coffees, chips, burgers, cakes and pastries. Food Standards Scotland will be taking forward a new strategy for eating outside the home in Scotland, for public consultation later in the year, and which will include measures such as calorie labelling.”