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One cappuccino please – hold the croissant

During a recent visit to the Cheesecake Factory in downtown Palo Alto, we couldn’t help but notice the large-print labels that tell customers they may ingest as many as 1,200 (!) calories if they indulge in a single piece of cheesecake. Who would order such an item, knowing they could consume nearly a day’s worth of calories in one sitting? Plenty of people, according to an employee behind the cheesecake counter.

Yet a new study from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business shows that customers do restrain their eating habits if they know how many calories they’ll consume in, say, a buttery croissant or a blueberry muffin. Coffee lovers are now ordering fewer treats or choosing lower fat food options, now that Starbucks outlets in New York are posting calorie counts for their pastries and other food offerings, the study found.

With every purchase, the GSB researchers reported, consumers were choosing options with 6 percent fewer calories overall. Most of the calorie reduction was related to food purchases, not changes in coffee preferences. The research team acknowledged that a 6 percent calorie reduction isn’t significant enough to have a major impact on our collective waistlines. But even this small benefit outweighs the cost and inconvenience of posting the policy, they noted.

In my view, this is a great beginning. I am a calorie-conscious consumer who avidly reads food labels in grocery stores and makes my choices accordingly. Yet when I sit down to a restaurant meal, I can only guess at the calorie or fat content in the meal that sits before me. Wouldn’t it be nice to have that choice as well?

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