Large font sizes for low calorie counts can influence healthy eating choices, study shows

By Augustus Bambridge-Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

Font size on menus can affect healthy choices. Image Source: alvarez/Getty Images
Font size on menus can affect healthy choices. Image Source: alvarez/Getty Images

Related tags Health calories

There are many reasons why people choose to order healthy food at restaurants, and a new study shows that the font size of calorie counts on menus is one of them. People can be influenced to order healthy options, the study suggests, by the calorie count being written in a larger font.

The study, published in the journal International Journal of Hospitality Management, ​examines the affect of such menu-based typographical techniques on consumers’ restaurant food choices.

Previous studies have shown that explicit references to health can, in some cases, cause consumers to react against them by indulging in unhealthy choices out of a perception that healthiness means a sacrifice in quality. This happens especially when said consumers are not looking for health.

The study made use of the numerical stroop affect (NSE) to influence consumers. The NSE is the affect that numbers whose sizes do not match their magnitudes (for example, a large 5 next to a small 7 rather than a large 7 next to a small 5) have on the mind, slowing it down and making it focus more. The affect also works with colours (for example, the word ‘green’ being written in orange), where people take longer to call out the correct colour than they do when the colour and word match. 

By using larger numbers for lower-calorie options, the study found, menus can nudge people to choose healthier options.

One of the reasons for this is the time pressure of choosing food in restaurants – people can see these numbers more quickly if their eyes are drawn to them, but it will also slow them down and make them focus on the numbers more.

When restaurants use a larger font size for the calorie content of healthy foods, even though the number itself has a smaller value, it will increase consumers’ preference to order the healthier item​,” said Ruiying Cai, the paper’s lead researcher.

In the study, participants were asked to choose on a menu between healthy items, such as a grilled chicken sandwich, and a less healthy option, such as a smoked beef burger. They were split into two groups, and only one group were given menus with the lower calorie counts printed larger.

The researchers found that those in this group were more likely to choose healthier options than those without the altered font sizes.  

The research also found that people who were more health conscious were less likely to be affected. Researchers suggested that this may be because those who were more health conscious had more clearly defined dietary objectives than those who weren’t, and thus were less likely to be swayed in their choices by larger type.

The method, said Cai, could help restaurants persuade consumers to eat healthily, rather than rebel against health claims.

Healthy food items could be profitable for restaurants, but whenever a ‘healthy’ label is attached, people may assume it does not taste good​,” she said. “We're trying to provide restaurants with subtle cues, rather than saying it out loud​.”

Sourced From: International Journal of Hospitality Management
'The numerical stroop effect on consumer preference to order healthy food’
Published on: August 2023
Authors: R. Cai, L. Lu, L. Wu

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