By Mike Pomranz
Updated October 09, 2014
© ED OU/AP/Corbis

Constantly eating out has never been the key to a great diet plan, but a recent study shows that restaurant chains of all types are trying to make less of an impact on your waistline.

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health looked at more than 19,000 menu items at 66 of the 100 largest US restaurant chains—from the likes of Arby’s to Outback Steakhouse. They found that from 2012 to 2013 the number of calories in new menu items dropped 12 percent, or about 60 calories per item. (Calories on established items, meanwhile, remained constant.)

NPR attributes part of the change to more cities, such as New York and Washington, DC, requiring chain restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus—an initiative soon set to expand nationwide as part of the Affordable Care Act. However, the idea that calorie reduction is “a possible benefit of upcoming menu labeling requirements” was part of the impetus of the study, presenting the possibility that researchers simply found what they were looking for.

Regardless, calorie reduction means little if the end goal isn’t achieved, which is, in the words of the study, “to make significant improvements in obesity prevalence.” The real hope is that calorie disclosures on menus won’t just encourage restaurants to cut back, but also inspire their customers to make better choices.