North Texas Daily

Food nutrition labels mostly used by already healthy people

Food nutrition labels mostly used by already healthy people

Food nutrition labels mostly used by already healthy people
March 24
10:59 2014

Morgan Gentry // Intern Writer

The topic of unhealthy eating habits has been buzzing around for quite some time and researchers at UNT Health Science Center took a closer look at the effects of restaurant menu labels on obesity.

The study found that people who pay the most attention to nutritional information on restaurant menus are already leading a healthy lifestyle, while overweight and obese consumers aren’t worried about their calorie intake or unhealthy eating habits.

Biostatistics professor Sumihiro Suzuki and biostatistics Ph.D student Kelly Bowers wrote a peer-review journal, “Preventing Chronic Disease,” for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention detailing the snapshot result from menu labeling data gathered earlier this year.

“The intent of this menu labeling is clear: they want to give consumers a platform where they can make more of an educated decision about what they’re eating,” Suzuki said. “We thought well, one, how often is it being used and, two, how effective is it? Who’s using it?”

The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System first implemented the menu-labeling module on data-collected questionnaires nation-wide in 2011. This provided the perfect opportunity for the researchers to calculate a usage trend. However, data from only three states was collected.

According to Suzuki’s and Bowers’s findings, the majority of those who use menu labeling are overweight females who already practice healthy eating habits and exercise adequately.

“At the beginning we hypothesized that as you go up in the obesity class people are going to use menu-labeling less, but that wasn’t the case,” Suzuki said. “There was actually an increasing trend of use. To investigate that, what we did was separate the normal weight, overweight, and obese and looked at them separately.”

The details of those categories are that someone with normal weight has a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 18.5-25; overweight BMI ranges from 25-30 and obese is a BMI of over 30.

Suzuki said within each of the categories, healthier people tend to pay more attention to menu labeling.

The findings of Suzuki and Bowers’s first menu-labeling analysis rely on data from only Hawaii, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The two are working on another menu-labeling module with 18 participating states, not including Texas.

UNT taking note

Chick-Fil-A and Taco Bell provide menu labels for students in the food court and Dining Services provide nutritional information online (, yet unhealthy food choices surround students.

“Being educated about healthy choices is the solution. Nutrition labels help educate the consumer, but it needs to go further than that,” said Ken Botts, special projects manager for Dining Services. “Personally, I follow a vegan diet and even that doesn’t guarantee that I will stay at a healthy weight. I know I need to exercise and watch my carb intake.”

Botts also noted that the healthy choices are already in the dining halls, but what students put on their plates is up to them. He feels that society as a whole eats excessive amounts of processed food filled with sugar, salt and bad oils.

Danielle Gemoets, dietitian at the Student Health and Wellness Center, agrees that the American society isn’t indulging in the healthy opportunities available.

“Take a look at where we’re headed as a society and what kind of things do we place importance on,” Gemoets said. “Unfortunately, we are really busy and it’s difficult, so I think restaurants have a responsibility to provide those options to people.”

Gemoets makes sure to spread information and awareness through engaging the UNT community, visiting dining halls and doing demos for those who may not have the resources or insight on how to eat healthy on a budget.

“I think that a great first start for making healthier choices is just knowing where to start. I think people trying to research on their own can be a little overwhelming,” Gemoets said. “I don’t think there’s a quick fix or a simple answer but a lot of it is lifestyle and convenience and people are really busy.”

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