Survey: 43% of Americans consider nutrition data on menus

August 13, 2013

Even as more U.S. restaurants list nutritional information on their menus, less than half of Americans, 43%, say they pay a “great deal” or a “fair amount” of attention to it, according to Gallup’s annual Consumption Habits survey. Americans are much more likely to take note of nutritional labels on food packages, with 68% saying they pay at least a fair amount of attention to this information.

These data come as some restaurants in the U.S. take steps to comply with a provision of the Affordable Care Act that requires restaurant chains with 20 or more locations to list calorie information on menus and menu boards by 2014. While menu labeling in restaurants is a new federal requirement, the federal government has required all packaged food to have nutritional labeling since 1990. As a result, Americans may be more accustomed to looking for nutritional information on packaged foods.

There are some differences in the attention Americans pay to nutritional information among key demographic groups:

  • Women are more likely than men to pay a great deal or fair amount of attention to nutrition information on food packages, 73% to 61%, and on restaurant menus, 49% to 36%.
  • Young adults ages 18–29 are the age group least likely to say they pay attention to nutrition information.
  • College graduates (81%) are the group most likely to say they pay attention to nutrition labels on food packages, exceeding those with some college (67%) and those with a high school diploma or less (58%). And the pattern is the same for nutrition information in restaurants.
  • Lower-income Americans are less likely than middle- and higher-income Americans to say they pay attention to nutritional information on food packages and in restaurants.

Americans who say they pay a great deal of attention to the nutrition labels on food packaging are at least twice as likely as those who pay less attention to describe their diet as “very healthy.” A similar pattern exists based on attention to nutrition information in restaurants.

Americans’ level of attention to nutritional information in restaurants may increase as the practice of posting such information becomes more common. It is possible, though, that people are more flexible when eating out—and more likely to choose less healthy food options—than they are when deciding what to purchase at the grocery store.