McDonald's Menu Boards Will Now Post Calorie Counts: Will it Change What You Eat? (VIDEO)

Now You'll Know: The Big Mac, at 550 calories, is 200 calories leaner than the Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese!

By Judy Feldman on September 15, 2012 4:17 PM EDT

McDonald's
McDonald's Restaurants to Post Menu Boards With Calorie Counts: Will it Make a Difference to You? (Photo: WIki Commons)

An unprecedented week for American healthy dietary guidelines? Philadelphia reported a first time ever decline in  childhood obesity rates, the New York City Board of Health voted eight-to-one in favor of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's ban on selling sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces, and now  -- Micky D's 14,000 nationwide restaurants and drive-thru's will might promote informed and healthier decision-making.  

Could Americans be led to eat lighter? Well, partly to get a jump start on the Federal Regulations coming down the pike -- because Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will soon be requiring all restaurants to label menus with calorie counts  --  and also to get some good vibes from the public, many restaurants have already started posting calorie counts. But McDonald's is the largest chain of fast-food restaurants and perhaps can make a bigger push for change. Plus, and perhaps to sweeten the news for customers, McDonald's will giving away java for free: 12 ounce cups of their java every day from Sept. 23 to Sept. 29!  Free Coffee and counting calories - more vegetarian items on the menu -- will it change anything?

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Cynthia Sass, a nutritionist and registered dietician and the author of "Sass Yourself Slim,"  spoke on "CBS This Morning: Saturday". Sass  said it really may not make a difference in what people choose to eat. People need to know what their habits are, and what they need to eat. if you don't accurately know what you need per number of calories, for example,  the minimums and maximus of what is suggested 'healthy for you, its hard to suss it out. Actually, the 2010 Act mandating that menu boards with  calorie counts  must also  include a statement about suggested total daily caloric intake. 

Will reading a calorie count  encourage consumers to make different choices? The jury is still out.

Some studies have shown the nutritional information will indeed encourage  people to make healthier choices. Other studies have found no such change in eating behavior.

A Stanford Graduate School of Business study found that when Starbucks Corp. began posting calorie information in New York City stores in April 2008, as required by city law, customers ordered food with 6% fewer calories on average per transaction.

Americans  consume roughly one-third  of their calories from restaurants, which is an increase from less than a quarter in the 1970s, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And amazing, considering the economy, Americans reportedly spend about half of their food budgets at restaurants , as compared with a third in the 1970s.

A Stanford Graduate School of Business study (see below) found that when Starbucks Corp. began posting calorie information in New York City in April of 2008,customers began to order food with 6% fewer calories, on average per purchase.

If other chains could trigger a similar effect, we could see about a 30-calorie per person per day decrease," Margo Wootan, the director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest reported to Marketwatch.  "For most of us, we're gaining one to two pounds per year steadily over decades and end up being 30 to 50 pounds overweight," Wootan added. "The obesity epidemic is explained by about 100 extra calories per person per day, so if we get a daily 30-calorie decrease from menu labeling, that's huge."

"It's an important step forward," said Michael Jacobson to the Examiner. Jacobson is the executive director of the advocacy group Center For Science in the Public Interest, which has actually been a long-time critic of McDonald's, and hopes that y other fast-food chains will feel the competitive pressure to provide the same information.

To read more from the report from the USDA Economic Research on the subject you can go here. In short - the findings were not conclusive but the report did say: "Calorie labeling may help diners make healthier choices when eating out, or it may help them realize that they should consume fewer calories at other meals throughout the day to compensate for high-calorie meals away from home."

Pointing nay? NYU research found that 27.7 percent of New York City customers who saw the calorie labeling indicated that the information influenced their choices, and about 88 percent of these customers said they purchased fewer calories. Trouble is,  the restaurant receipts showed otherwise. Survey participants in New York City purchased about the same number of calories both before and after the labeling law took effect.

Pointing yah? Findings from a  different Stanford University study, however revealed different results. Researchers compared Starbucks sales in New York City (pre- and post-mandatory calorie labeling) with sales in Boston and Philadelphia, where there were no calorie postings, after April 2008 when the city began mandating such information to be posted. The researchers found that mandatory calorie posting caused average calories to fall by 6 percent--from 247 to 232 calories per transaction/purchase. 

According to Ernst & Young, (as reported here) " Nutritional data are subject to inherent limitations, given the nature and the methods used for determining such data. And  caloric content simply  is not yet an exact science.  Where Enron cooked the books, notes Ernst & Young,  "it would not be unprecedented for McDonald's or another restaurant chain to not only cook the food, but the calorie counts".

To see a video about this news: go here

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