CLEVELAND - A new study shows about two-thirds of Americans are obese or overweight - and the cost of treating obesity-related diseases runs about $18 billion a year.
To help fight obesity and food-related illnesses, new federal regulations will soon require large food chains to post calorie counts for every item on the menu. McDonald ’s has already made the change, and customers are learning that ignorance is no excuse anymore in the battle of the bulge.
It’s hard to avoid the calorie count posted right beside the price on McDonald’s updated menu board. “It's attention grabbing. It's not something you think about before you get there. It's like 'oh, what I'm eating has 370 calories' - and it makes you think about your next meal. It's helpful,” said customer Antonee Sabbs.
McDonald’s, Panera Bread and Starbucks are adding the calorie information to their menu boards ahead of federal rules that require nutrition information to be posted at restaurant chains with more than 20 locations.
"I think people have more and more found out about the healthy options we have here at McDonald's over the past couple years, but now more so when you have it right in front of you. When you see that 80% of our menu is under 400 calories, I think a year ago, nobody would have guessed that much of our menu was so healthy for you," said store manager Terrell Washington.
You can get a side salad with low-fat dressing for 55 calories, or the Angus Bacon and Cheeseburger meal with fries and a drink at a whopping 1410 calories. Eating one of these would account for almost three-fourths of your recommended daily food intake of 2000 calories. “I might take a second thought if I see that many calories,” said customer Jim Seibyl. “I think it's important to at least have the truth out there, and you can make your own choice about what is best for you.”
Jeff Sherwin would choose one of those burgers, but his health has him choosing other items. "I'm diabetic so I can't have a lot of carbs,” he said. “I can't eat Big Macs anymore, which is upsetting because I like Big Macs - they're good. I just never knew they had so many carbs and so many calories to them."
Other major restaurant chains are adding healthier items, improving nutritional quality and reducing calorie counts of food items before federal labeling requirements kick in. Both Dunkin’ Donuts and IHOP announced recently that they are adding Quaker Oats to their menu.
The calorie postings may have a positive effect for some customers at least. A Stanford University study looked at the impact of posting nutritional data on consumer behavior in New York City, where calorie counts have been mandated since 2008. They found a 26% drop in the number of total calories by people who purchased some food items at Starbucks.
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