Restaurant menu labelling: Is it worth adding sodium to the label?

Mary J. Scourboutakos, Paul N. Corey, Julio Mendoza, Spencer J. Henson, Mary R. L'Abbe


OBJECTIVE: Several provincial and federal bills have recommended various forms of menu labelling that would require information beyond just calories; however, the additional benefit of including sodium information is unknown. The objective of this study was to determine whether sodium information on menus helps consumers make lower-sodium choices and to understand what other factors influence the effect of menu labelling on consumers’ meal choices.

METHODS: A total of 3,080 Canadian consumers completed an online survey that included a repeated measures experiment in which consumers were asked to select what they would typically order from four mock-restaurant menus. Subsequently, consumers were randomly allocated to see one of three menu-labelling treatments (calories; calories and sodium; or calories, sodium and serving size) and were given the option to change their order.

RESULTS: There was a significant difference in the proportion of consumers who changed their order, varying from 17% to 30%, depending on the restaurant type. After participants had seen menu labelling, sodium levels decreased in all treatments (p<0.0001). However, in three of the four restaurant types, consumers who saw calorie and sodium information ordered meals with significantly less sodium than consumers who saw only calorie information (p<0.01). Consumers who saw sodium labelling decreased the sodium level of their meal by an average of 171-384 mg, depending on the restaurant. In the subset of consumers who saw sodium information and chose to change their order, sodium levels decreased by an average of
681-1,360 mg, depending on the restaurant. Sex, intent to lose weight and the amount of calories ordered at baseline were the most important predictors of who used menu labelling. Eighty percent of survey panelists wanted to see nutrition information when dining out.

CONCLUSION: Including sodium information alongside calorie information may result in a larger decrease in the amount of sodium ordered by restaurant-goers.


Restaurants; fast foods; food labelling; sodium

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