How many times have you impulsively added a blueberry muffin to your flat white coffee order in the morning? It's easy to do and coffee shop cabinets are designed to entice you with their delicious-looking sweet treats and freshly baked scents.
What if that muffin also came with a sign telling you that it contained 500 calories which equates to one quarter of your recommended energy requirements for the day? Would it change your mind? Could it help you to track where your extra calories are coming? Would you pick the fruit salad instead?
Many states in the US already have nutritional labelling in their fast food stores, where the number calories are listed next to the food item on the menu. This lets consumers easily compare the energy content of food items at a glance so they can make quick decisions if they are tracking calories.
This year food nutritional labelling will become mandatory across all states in the US for fast food chains that have more than 20 outlets, and many UK food outlets have followed suit with a voluntarily food labelling system.
A new study this week published in the Cochrane Library helps to show that moving towards prominent and easy to use calorie labelling next to food in restaurants and cafes could help reduce the number of calories people consume.
Eating too many calories is one of the major contributors to weight gain. Thanks to our busy lifestyles, more and more meals are being bought and eaten outside the home, making it difficult to track portion size or know what ingredients are going into the food. This rise in fast food consumption is also resulting in a significant rise in our waistline measurement.
As a nation we are getting fatter; the most recent OECD study shows we are the third fattest nation in the world with over 30 per cent of New Zealand adults classified as obese.
Climbing up to win bronze in the obesity table is not something to be proud of and being overweight increases the risks of heart diseases, diabetes and many other cancers which are the leading causes of premature death and poor health.
With other nations moving towards food labelling, the question arises about whether New Zealand should follow suit. If we started sticking the calorie content of foods next to them in the cabinet would that help us to make healthier choices or would it just destroy the enjoyment we get from our afternoon frosted donut?
The Cochrane study reviewed the evidence from UK and US initiatives and found when calorie labels were added to menus or put next to food items in restaurants it did help consumers reduce the calorie intake of the food they bought.
The study participants ended up eating on average 8 to 12 per cent fewer calories per meal - which may not sound like much, but other studies have shown even small daily changes such as cutting 100 calories a day can help people lose weight long-term.
The study also found no evidence of unintended consequences from the food labelling, meaning that sticking a calorie sticker on your extra-large cinema popcorn won't harm you and could potentially help you to pick the smaller box instead.
Removing junk food advertising aimed at children, and bringing in a sugar tax are commonly thrown around as suggestions to help reduce our childhood obesity epidemic, however perhaps a more simple and science-backed solution could involve easy to read calorie stickers instead.