Calories on the menu
© 2010 Roy Benaroch, MD
Sometimes a simple study can reveal unexpected truths.
In this month’s Pediatrics, researchers asked 99 parents to choose meals for themselves and their children from one of two ordinary fast food menus from McDonalds. (Don’t ask me why they didn’t get one more to reach an even hundred. Sometimes the intricacies of research elude me.) One of the two menus had calorie content information next to each item; otherwise, they were identical.
Do you need to guess what happened?
Parents who saw just how many calories were in each item (hamburgers-250 cals, Big Macs-540 cals; yogurt parfait-160 cals, McFlurry-550 cals) ordered less food with fewer calories for their children, on average about 100 calories fewer. That may not sound like a lot, but over the course of a year an extra 100 calories a day adds up to gaining about an extra five pounds of fat each year.
And none of the meals ordered by any of the parents with calorie-count menus ordered a meal that was too small. All of the meals chosen were plenty big and provided all of the calories their growing children needed.
There was one other big truth– and maybe we should have expected this as well.
For parents ordering meals for themselves, having calorie counts made no difference whatsoever. Whether or not their menus had calorie counts, adults tended to order the same enormous meals. More information on menus may encourage parents to order more-reasonably sized meals for their kids, but not for themselves.
Junior, you get a munchkin; and while you’re at it, pass me another donut.