Eating out gets easier for health conscious consumers

Calorie counts to appear on menus

Created date

July 13th, 2009

Americans love restaurants. According to the USDA, the average American eats out four times a week. We love the convenience and we love the food. But with the dramatic increase in obesity and weight-related health issues such as diabetes and high blood pressure, many believe that it s time to arm the American consumer with the ability to make smart menu choices. Most chain restaurants make nutritional information available to the public on posters and brochures in the restaurants. However, a study published in the American Journal of Public Health conducted by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University showed that only six out of 4,311 patrons at fast food restaurants looked at in-store nutritional brochures or posters. Last year, New York became the first city in the nation to require chain restaurants to put calorie counts right on the menu board so that consumers could make a caloric decision about each item in much the same way they decide if certain things cost too much money. After the law went into effect, the city conducted a survey. It found that 84% of consumers were surprised by the calorie counts in some of their favorite restaurant foods, and 97% said that the calorie counts listed were higher than they expected. Seventy-five percent reported that the nutrition information on menus made an impact on their ordering. Guess what s better Without that information, it s nearly impossible to guess which foods are better. For example, let s say you are at Denny s for breakfast. You ve narrowed your selection down to four things: 1.) a ham and cheddar omelet, 2.) country fried steak and eggs, 3.) French toast with syrup and margarine, and 4.) pancakes with syrup and margarine. You ve promised your grandchildren that you re going to try and eat healthier, so which of those four do you choose? The answer may surprise you. Coming in at 464 calories, the best option is actually the country fried steak and eggs. Next is the ham and cheddar omelet with 595 calories, followed by the pancakes with 650 calories. With a total of 1,000 calories, the French toast comes in last place. As the nation becomes increasingly concerned about the foods we eat and the burgeoning health care costs directly attributed to obesity, cities and states are putting the issue of menu labeling on the ballot. States such as California have passed menu-labeling legislation, and similar bills are pending elsewhere. There s also a movement afoot to pass federal menu-labeling legislation. A call to action Last year, Yum! Brands, the world s largest restaurant company, became the first national restaurant chain to begin voluntarily placing calorie information on its menu boards in company-owned restaurants nationwide. Our customers have told us they would find calorie information useful, along with other nutritional information we make accessible in restaurant brochures and on our websites, says Jonathan Blum, chief public affairs officer for Yum! Brands. We now call on the U.S. Congress to enact federal legislation that would create uniform menu board guidelines for all who sell prepared food so there is a consistent way to educate the public about the nutritional value of the food they eat. Yum! Brands groundbreaking announcement that it will add calorie counts to the menu boards at KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell is fabulous news for health-conscious consumers, says Michael Jacobson, executive director of The Center for Science in the Public Interest. Yum! has taken it a step further by also introducing new healthier options to its many different lines. Taco Bell has its Fresco items which are lower in both calories and fat. KFC recently introduced grilled chicken. And Pizza Hut now has an organic whole-wheat pizza that is preservative free. Is it a coincidence that Yum! Brands reported increased profits for the first quarter? Consumers are clearly interested in making healthy choices when armed with the information. Is ignorance bliss? Some Americans would rather not know how many calories they are consuming especially when they are at a restaurant. Many feel that what you eat is a matter of personal choice, not public policy. Personal choice was a popular rebuttal at the start of other significant public health campaigns like the ones to stop smoking, promote safe sex, or even get Americans to buckle up in the car. It took years to quiet the resistance and even more years to get people to change their behavior. With childhood obesity rates growing at an alarming pace, the battle cry for the nation to take action is getting louder. Menu labeling won t solve the crisis, but many believe it could be one small step toward a healthier future. How many calories are in your favorite fast foods? Burger King ' : TENDERCRISP ' chicken sandwich 800 calories WHOPPER JR. ' without mayonnaise 290 calories Chick-fil-A ' : Chicken salad sandwich 500 calories Chick-n-Strips ' (4) 470 calories Dunkin Donuts ' : Sesame bagel with cream cheese 570 calories 2 jelly-filled donuts 420 calories McDonald s ' : Filet-O-Fish ' sandwich ' 380 calories Chocolate Triple Thick ' shake (16 oz.) 580 calories Pizza Hut ' : Slice of Meat Lovers ' 12 pan pizza 330 calories Slice of ham, red onion, and mushroom 12 Fitn n Delicious ' pizza 160 calories Starbucks ' : Tall Carmel Frappuccino ' Blended Coffee 380 calories Tall Carmel Frappuccino ' Light Blended Coffee 160 calories Taco Bell ' : Chicken ranch fully loaded taco salad 960 calories Fresco Ranchero chicken soft taco 170 calories