Calorie Data at Fast Food Chains: Helpful or Pointless?

The new health care bill that was passed this summer is requiring all fast-food restaurants that have more than 20 locations to post calorie data on their menus. McDonald’s is one of the first restaurants (among Panera and a couple of others) to get started on this restaurant-changing project.

The question I asked myself is, “If I am craving a Big Mac and see the calorie count, will that sway my purchase?” The answer is “Yes.” I go to Panera pretty frequently, and most of the time I do scope out the lowest-calorie option. I think that just seeing the number right in front of you will be a huge wake-up call to a lot of people.

According to an article in the New York Times, “McDonald’s Menu to Post Calorie Data,” calorie data is already required in New York City and Philadelphia, and it “seems to show minimal impact on consumer behavior.” However, I do think that eventually people will see a decrease in the amount of calories that customers are purchasing once it becomes a nationwide campaign.

Others tend to think that this is strictly a public relations move (at least for McDonald’s). Sara Deon, a worker for campaigns to reduce junk food marketing, said:

“Offering a healthier option in the Happy Meal doesn’t put an end to the marketing that’s directed at children,” Ms. Deon said. “The healthier options over all are little more than a vehicle for selling more of McDonald’s bread and butter — burgers, fries and soda.”

Obviously this will not be an overnight miracle, but I do think that it begins to allow for nutritional awareness to become an important aspect of people’s lives. It’s not about being stick-thin like the models in magazines, it’s about being healthy and having a body that will be able to resist obesity-related diseases. I applaud the health care bill for getting the ball rolling with this, and I will be interested to see what companies do with it from a public relations and advertising standpoint.


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