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Good Question: Do Calorie Counts On Menus Change The Way We Eat?

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Do you really want to know that a McDonald’s quarter pounder with cheese has 520 calories?

McDonald’s is putting calorie information right on its menus. Every one of its 14,000 restaurants will have calories next to the Big Macs and the french fries by Monday night.

But does seeing the calorie counts on a menu result in eating fewer calories?

“We’ve had them at this location for about a week,” said Pat Duval, owner/operator of several east metro McDonald’s, including one in Woodbury.

“You know, most of the customers honestly don’t even see it,” he said.

The menus take some getting used to. Next to the name of the item, and the price, is a calorie count. Sometimes there’s a range, because a value meal can come with a zero calorie soda, or a 200 calorie soda.

“It’s a little overwhelming at first –that was one of our biggest concerns,” Duval said.

Public health advocates don’t think that calorie counts are a magic solution to the obesity problem, and neither does Duval.

“It might change a few people’s ideas,” Duval said. “And if they can have good information, and make good choices, that’s good for everybody.”

The early research generally shows a very minor affect to calories appearing on menus.

After Starbucks in New York City started posting calorie counts, Stanford University found people made a minor change, going from 247 calories per transaction to 232, a 6 percent drop.

Another research firm, NPD, tested two menus: one with calorie counts and one without. With calorie counts, consumers ordered 901 calories. Without counts, consumers ordered 1021 calories, a 13 percent difference researchers call “not significantly different.”

Another study in New York City found that a labeling law changed nothing overall. But the 15 percent who said they pay attention to the counts ordered about 100 fewer calories for lunch. Still, that’s not a significant change.

Putting numbers on the menu is good, but wouldn’t serving healthier food be better?

“McDonalds is trying to do that as well, Duval said. “We’ve come out with oatmeal, the snack wraps, we’re trying to give the consumer options.”

In fact, McDonald’s is also rolling out an all egg-white McMuffin and a Grilled Chicken Happy Meal. But healthier options haven’t always been huge consumer successes.

“We can only put it out there, I can’t make you eat it,” Duval said.

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