Calorie Information on Menus Can Lead to Lower CVD Incidence, Care Costs

A new analysis suggests that requiring the addition of calories to menus could add years of healthy living to the average live, and also save billions of dollars in health care costs.

The paper, published in the Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, noted that excess caloric intake is linked to weight gain, obesity, and other disease like type 2 diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease.

“Obesity incidence is rising, with nearly 3 in 4 US adults being overweight or obese,” the authors wrote. “In 2018, the U.S. federal government finalized the implementation of mandatory labeling of calorie content on all menu items across major chain restaurants nationally as a strategy to support informed consumer choice, reduce caloric intake, and potentially encourage restaurant reformulations. Yet, the potential health and economic impacts of this policy remain unclear.”

To measure these impacts, the authors used a validated microsimulation model (CVD-PREDICT) to estimate a range of outcomes due to , including reductions in CVD events, diabetes cases, gains in quality-adjusted life years, costs, and cost-effectiveness. Using dietary and demographic data from the NHANES Surveys of 2009 to 2016, the authors focused on meta-analyses of policy effects on consumer diets and body mass index effects, as all as analyses on industry reformulation, implementation costs, and health-related costs. They evaluated the results over five years and a lifetime from health care and societal perspectives.

According to the results of their analysis, they estimated that between 2018 and 2023, the implementation of restaurant calorie labeling laws based on consumer response alone could prevent 14,698 new CVD cases (and 1,575 CVD deaths) and 21,522 new cases of type 2 diabetes mellitus, resulting in a gain of 8,749 quality-adjusted life years. Over a lifetime, these estimates increased to 135,781 cases of CVD prevented (and 27,646 CVD deaths), more than 99,000 prevented cases of type 2 diabetes mellitus, and over 367,000 quality-adjusted life years gained. They also estimated net lifetime health care cost savings of $10.42 billion and $12.71 billion from a social cost perspective.

“Prior to COVID-19, Americans were relying on restaurants for one in five calories, on average,” said Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School, with co-first author Junxiu Liu, a postdoctoral scholar at the Friedman School, in a press release. “Most likely, we will come to rely on them again. Our study shows that menu calorie labeling may prevent meaningful disease and save billions of dollars in healthcare costs,”