McDonald’s Calories Menu Shows Americans Exactly What We’re Eating

McDonald’s Calories Menu is voluntarily posted; the move is expected to start a trend among rivals.

McDonald's calories menu will tell you exactly how many calories are in this burger? You might not want to know, but McDonald's is going to tell you anyway. (Photo: David Marsden/Getty Images)

Sep 12, 2012· 2 MIN READ
Clare Leschin-Hoar's stories on seafood and food politics have appeared in Scientific American, Eating Well and elsewhere.

Starting next week, if you want to know how many calories are in a McDonald’s Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese (750) in comparison to a plain hamburger (250), you’ll only need to glance up at the menu.

Announced this morning, McDonald's calories menu will be voluntarily posted on all menu boards, including the drive-thru. The move is expected to send rival chains scrambling to do the same.

McDonald’s says they’re just trying to help customers and employees make informed nutritional choices, but skeptics say the move isn’t purely based on concern over health concerns and skyrocketing obesity rates.

MORE: An Egg McMuffin in the Moonlight: McDonald's Starts Serving Breakfast After Midnight

“The decision to post calorie information follows the Supreme Court’s decision this summer to uphold President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, which includes a regulation that would require restaurant chains with more than 20 locations to post calorie information. The timetable for carrying out that requirement has yet to be worked out,” writes Candice Choi for the Associated Press.

If you live in New York, Vermont or California, you've had McDonald's calories menu for a while and won’t notice anything new. But for the rest of the country, the move may help customers figure out which items are more calorie dense. For plenty of us, it’s not always so easy to discern. According to the McDonald’s press statement, 15 percent of Americans accurately estimate the number of calories they need to maintain their weight. In other words, 85 percent of us aren’t especially good at it.

The transparency provided by McDonald's calories menu could force the fast-food industry to provide healthier options.

“It can be embarrassing, or shocking, so they end up changing the way the product is made,” Margo Wootan, director of nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told the AP.

CSPI hopes the move will catch the attention of the FDA, which is expected to issue final menu labeling rules soon.

While all this might be good for an eater looking to shed a few pounds, don’t expect it to be embraced by the entire on-the-go industry. A bill circulating in Congress could exempt supermarkets and convenience stores from having to post calorie information. Sponsored by Congressman John Carter (R-TX), H.R. 6174 would mean calorie information would not be provided for salad bar items at the supermarket; nachos from 7-Eleven; or a muffin from the neighborhood gas station. Pizza chains would also enjoy a labeling loophole.

“The other big piece is that they want to label calories per serving size rather than entire amount,” Hanna Jones, nutrition policy project assistant with CPSI, tells TakePart. “They might serve a muffin and say it’s four servings, but no one eats a quarter of a muffin. Same with personal-sized pizzas that are considered four serving sizes.”

That small but gooey pizza might be four servings, but plenty of folks consume the portion in one sitting, which is why prominent calorie labeling—voluntary or mandatory—is an issue we can expect to see more of in the coming months while we wait for final FDA approval and implementation.

With McDonald's calories menu published, will it be easier for you to make a healthier choice? Tell us in the Comments

Related Stories on TakePart:

Bittman: McDonalds Oatmeal Has More Sugar Than a Snickers Bar

Does a Low-Cal Menu Make Any Sense for McDonald’s?

Clouds in the Silver Lining: McDonald's 50,000 Jobs