Online Program

Misinterpretation of the low endpoint of a calorie range biases calorie estimates of customized food products

Monday, November 4, 2013 : 11:30 a.m. - 11:50 a.m.

Peggy Liu, B.S., Marketing Department, Duke University Fuqua School of Business, Durham, NC
INTRODUCTION. Calorie ranges currently appear on menu boards in locations such as New York City, and will likely appear nationwide once the U.S. Food and Drug Administration implements menu-labeling legislation. Although calorie ranges occupy little menu space and satisfy certain menu-labeling requirements, consumer welfare advocates have questioned whether calorie ranges enable accurate calorie estimation. METHODS. Study 1 participants (N=326) were customers exiting a popular chain restaurant, where all entrées are customizable. They were randomly assigned to estimate their entrée's calorie content while exposed or not exposed to the entrée's calorie range. Study 2 was an online study in which participants (N=208) customized an entrée, and were randomly assigned to estimate their entrée's calories either before or after indicating the contents of representative “low endpoint” and “high endpoint” entrees. Study 3 was an online study in which participants (N=306) customized an entrée and were randomly assigned to estimate their entrée's calorie content with no range information, range information, or range plus endpoint-content information. RESULTS. This research shows that: 1) a calorie underestimation bias persists even when consumers are given calorie range information [Studies 1-3]; 2) an important cause of this underestimation bias is misinterpretation of the low endpoint's meaning [Study 2]; and 3) adding endpoint content information effectively mitigates calorie underestimation [Study 3]. DISCUSSION. Calorie ranges are prevalent on menu boards where menu labeling is mandatory. We demonstrate that consumers systematically misinterpret calorie ranges, leading to calorie underestimation. Importantly, defining the meaning of the calorie range endpoints significantly mitigates estimation inaccuracy.

Learning Areas:

Public health or related research

Learning Objectives:
Explain how consumers misinterpret calorie range information; Design menus that promote accurate interpretation of calorie information for foods with variable calorie count

Keyword(s): Food and Nutrition, Obesity

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am qualified to present because I am a Ph.D. student in marketing and conduct research on factors that influence consumer food choice. I have published research on menu labeling, front-of-package labeling, and food marketing.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.