The effects of calorie labels on those at high-risk of eating pathologies: a pre-post intervention study in a University cafeteria
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OBJECTIVES: The aim of the study was to examine the effect of a public policy (menu labelling) on those at high-risk for eating pathologies. Specifically, the study looked for any adverse effects related to eating disturbance level. STUDY DESIGN: The study employed a pre-post intervention design. Baseline collection took place in October 2012. One week prior to follow-up in November 2012, calorie labels were displayed next to virtually all menu items in a University cafeteria. Labels remained throughout the entire duration of follow-up. METHODS: Participants were female undergraduates (N = 299). At baseline and follow-up, a survey assessed eating disturbance level (Eating Attitudes Test-26), emotional state, frequency of engaging in unhealthy weight-related behaviours, and calorie consumption. RESULTS: Generalized estimating equations were used to test changes in negative outcomes over time in response to calorie labels. Calorie consumption did not significantly decrease from baseline (mean = 660.5 kcal) to follow-up (mean = 600.5 kcal; P = 0.104). There were no changes in emotional states such as body image satisfaction (P = 0.447), anxiety (P = 0.595), positive affect (P = 0.966), negative affect (P = 0.576), and unhealthy weight-related behaviours such as binging (P = 0.268), exercising excessively (P = 0.847), or restricting calories (P = 0.504). Additionally, there were no interactions between eating disturbance level and time. CONCLUSIONS: Overall, no adverse outcomes were found for this at-risk population. Calorie labels did not differentially affect those with higher levels of eating disturbance. Future research should focus on examining the impact of calorie labels among those with clinical eating disorders.
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