Calories on the menu

The Pediatric Insider

© 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.

Explore posts in the same categories: In the news, Nutrition

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2 Comments on “Calories on the menu”

  1. Shannon Says:

    My husband just returned from New York City, and he said that they’re posting nutritional info on all Fast Food Menus. I think the city implemented it fairly recently because he was just up there about four months ago. I wonder if the restaurants have noticed any sort of ordering trends? New York is a significantly larger sample size.


  2. Toby Says:

    Thank you for posting this information about calories on the menus. As a Dietitian working with overweight children, I feel that the more information that parents have the better they will be able to make healthy choices for their children. Maybe in future, these same parents will make changes for themselves if they see the caloric amounts often enough!


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