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McDonald’s new menu item: Calorie counts

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Updated: October 14, 2012 2:03PM



On Monday, hungry McDonald’s customers will see calorie counts prominently posted next to each menu item in restaurants and at drive-thrus — the result of the Oak Brook fast-food giant jumping ahead of federal rules that require the information.

Customers at a McDonald’s in Lincolnshire already have the menu, which is backlit with the calories listed at about the same size as the prices — no squinting required, said a Sun-Times employe who noticed the new signs.

The menu boards include a “Favorites Under 400” listing choices under 400 calories, such as a chicken sandwich, a Filet-O-Fish and a fruit and maple oatmeal.

But some of the menu items leave customers to figure out the consequences of added sugar, syrup and toppings, such as “iced coffee” ranging from 90 to 200 calories and a “snack size” McFlurry ranging from 340 to 430.

McDonald’s also said Wednesday it is testing new menu items for next year, such as blueberries, an egg-white breakfast sandwich and a Happy Meal choice with grilled chicken.

McDonald’s President Jan Fields touted the Oak Brook-based fast-food chain’s multi-pronged approach, including training employees this fall in a voluntary “nutrition e-learning program,” and having already introduced a mobile app showing nutrition data for its foods.

Critics responded that McDonald’s has long fought required calorie postings in various municipalities that sought to enforce them, and that the chain’s stock in trade is marketing hamburgers, french fries and soda pop to children.

Studies show mixed results from calorie postings required in New York City and Philadelphia, with some showing no effects, one showing customers choosing new low-calorie options and another showing women the most likely and young men the least likely to choose a healthier option when viewing the calorie counts, according to interviews and published reports.

“It seems to have no impact on behavior because people eat for taste and think of it as a reward,” said Ron Paul, president of Chicago-based Technomic, a food industry market research firm whose study showed no impact.

Though Paul said it’s a good idea for restaurants to give people information, people who want to eat healthy diets are finding ways to do so that suit them, such as eating a protein bar for breakfast or staying away from fast food altogether.

Marlene Schwartz, deputy director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University, said the center’s research two years ago showed McDonald’s continued to offer soda and french fries as the “default” Kids’ Meal unless parents requested milk, juice or apple slices.

Other research has shown that calorie-posting laws result in restaurants coming up with healthier menu options as a marketing tool, and Schwartz said she believes McDonald’s will add more of those options.

Raquel Bournhonesque, co-director of Upstream Public Health, a Portland, Ore.-based nonprofit that has successfully lobbied to require calorie postings at restaurants and to remove junk foods from school vending machines, said the new menu boards are an important consumer tool, especially as the nation grapples with “a diabetes and obesity epidemic.”



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