Sustainability labeling on menus may change fast food ordering choices

January 11, 2023–People may be less likely to choose red meat items from menus that include labeling about foods’ climate impact, according to a study co-authored by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The study was published online December 27 in JAMA Network Open. Co-authors included Cindy Leung, assistant professor of public health nutrition, and Aviva Musicus, postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Nutrition.

The researchers surveyed 5,000 online participants, who were asked to choose an item for dinner from one of three sample versions of a fast food menu. One menu included red meat items labeled “high climate impact”; another included non-beef choices such as chicken sandwiches or salads labeled “low climate impact”; and a third included QR codes linked to the restaurant’s actual online menu but no climate labels.

Compared to those who viewed the menu with no climate information, 23% more participants in the high-impact-label menu group made sustainable choices, and 10% more participants in the low-impact-label menu group did so.

Read Johns Hopkins release: Study Finds Climate Impact Labels on Sample Fast Food Menu Had Strong Effect on Food Selection

Read Los Angeles Times coverage: McChicken vs. Big Mac: Could environmental labels transform American burger culture?