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McDonald's new menu item: Calorie counts

Posted September 12, 2012
Updated September 14, 2012

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— Area McDonald's restaurants got a menu addition on Friday: The number of calories in the chain's burgers and fries.

The world's biggest hamburger chain has begun posting calorie information on restaurant and drive-thru menus nationwide. The move comes ahead of a regulation that could require major chains to post the information as early as next year.

A meal consisting of a Big Mac and medium fries, for example, has 920 calories. Add a 16-ounce Coca-Cola, and the count rises to 1,140 calories.

"We want to voluntarily do this," said Jan Fields, president of McDonald's USA. "We believe it will help educate customers."

In cities such as New York and Philadelphia where posting calorie information is already required, however, Fields notes that the information has not changed what customers choose to order.

"When it's all said and done, the menu mix doesn't change," she said. "But I do think people feel better knowing this information."

The Oak Brook, Ill.-based chain also plans to announce that its restaurants in Latin America, which are owned by a franchisee, will start providing calorie information on menus this spring. The company already posts calorie information in Australia, South Korea and the United Kingdom.

The decision to post calorie information in the U.S. 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 is being worked out.

"More and more, customers are inquiring about lifestyle decisions, and so, this makes it easy for them," said Jim Tingen, the director of operations for several McDonald's restaurants in Harnett County.

Tingen said the added information doesn't seem to suppress anyone's appetite for a Big Mac or large fries.

McDonald's chicken sandwich Calorie details newest value on McDonald's menu

"McDonald's is a treat. It isn't designed to do every day for every meal," he said.

Customer Chance Kuzma bears that out, saying having the calorie count up in lights won't bag his eating habits.

"I'm on a 'see food' diet. I see it, I eat it," Kuzma said, adding that he still appreciates the calorie information.

"Being a power-lifting guy, I like to look at my diet. It's nice to see what I'm eating instead of taking everything blindly on the run," he said.

Customer Crystal Hernandez said she didn't notice the calorie information when she ordered her lunch Friday but said it wouldn't change her decision.

"I come in here to get what I get, eat and go," Hernandez said.

Corporate Accountability International, which has urged McDonald's to stop marketing its food to children, notes that the chain has fought efforts to institute menu labeling in local jurisdictions in the past and said its latest move was "certainly not voluntary."

The posting of calorie information isn't a magic bullet in fighting obesity but could have a big effect over time, says Margo Wootan, director of nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which advocates on nutrition and food safety issues.

"Obesity isn't the kind of thing where one day you wake up and you're fat. We gradually and slowly gain weight over time," she said.

So even if only some people are swayed to make slightly better choices, Wootan thinks there's a big benefit to providing calorie information.

Another upside is that companies tend to work harder to provide healthier options when they're forced to display calorie information.

"It can be embarrassing, or shocking, so they end up changing the way the product is made," Wootan said.

Joe Finn, a sales manager from Oconomowoc, Wis., said he was surprised at the calorie information posted at a hamburger restaurant when he flew out to California earlier this year for the Rose Bowl.

"All the calories were up there, and I thought, 'Well, I'm not going to order that,'" said Finn, 51, who's trying to watch what he eats. He ended up picking the most basic burger, without cheese.

Back at home, he tries to stick to options where he knows the calorie information, such as Subway sandwiches.

"Otherwise, you could be ordering a gut bomb," he said.

The move by McDonald's could spur other restaurant chains to move ahead of the federal regulation.

"I'm sure they'll follow suit. They usually do," Tingen said.

The Wendy's Co. did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Representatives for Burger King Worldwide Inc. and Yum Brands Inc, which owns Taco Bell and KFC, said they're waiting for further guidance from regulators before updating their menus.

McDonald's is also testing healthier options for next year, such as an Egg McMuffin made with egg whites and a whole grain muffin. The sandwich has Canadian bacon and white cheddar cheese and clocks in at 260 calories. It will be called the Egg White Delight.

The chain is also testing versions of the McWrap, which is a bigger version of its chicken Snack Wrap that is already sold in Europe. The wraps have sliced cucumbers and range from 350 calories to 580 calories.

The moves reflect the pressures McDonald's and other fast-food chains are facing amid growing concerns about obesity.

As for the company's move earlier this year to automatically include apple slices in its Happy Meals, Sara Deon of Corporate Accountability said it amounted to a "PR scheme designed to drive traffic to stores to sell burgers and fries."

McDonald's also faces competition from chains such as Subway, which positions itself as a healthy alternative to traditional hamburger chains.

McDonald's, which has 14,000 locations in the U.S., doesn't plan to advertise the posting of the calorie information. Fields said it's something the chain is doing as a "customer convenience."

32 Comments

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  • ellengraham5660 Sep 18, 2:31 p.m.

    I think by the time you are in one of these types of fast-food places, you're too far gone to care one way or the other. I say away from them because they are nasty, expensive and tasteless. Some people, however, are addicted to this junk and always will be. Let them be......stop trying to make people feel guilty about eating what ever it is that they do. I'm sure we ALL eat stuff that is bad for us........that could be just about anything we put in our mouths.......

  • fayncmike Sep 17, 2:22 p.m.

    "Don't care. NOTHING will stop me fromt getting my Big Mac, Quarter Pounder w/cheese, Filet O' Fish, Egg McMuffin, Big Breakfast, etc. Oh... don't forget the King of specialty sandwiches... the McRib. I stick with the original sandwiches I grew up with. DeathRow-IFeelYourPain-NOT"

    Your cardiologist will thank you. Do you carry his card in your wallet? If not, you should.
    piene2"

    He needs to put 911 on his speed dial too.

  • shanemane1986 Sep 17, 8:49 a.m.

    It's sooo hard to resist the pink slime!!!!!

  • piene2 Sep 17, 8:32 a.m.

    "Don't care. NOTHING will stop me fromt getting my Big Mac, Quarter Pounder w/cheese, Filet O' Fish, Egg McMuffin, Big Breakfast, etc. Oh... don't forget the King of specialty sandwiches... the McRib. I stick with the original sandwiches I grew up with. DeathRow-IFeelYourPain-NOT"

    Your cardiologist will thank you. Do you carry his card in your wallet? If not, you should.

  • dontgetmestarted Sep 14, 7:42 p.m.

    Deathrow...lol. You made me smile. :)

    Danny22...I do agree. WIC only allows for certain items to be purchased, I know this because I worked at a grocery store when I was in college. Food stamps should be treated the same. Only heathy food/beverages should be bought with aid like that. If you want the other things (which are not considered necessary things but rather "splurges") then you should purchase that with your own dollar.

  • nogodbutallah Sep 14, 7:41 p.m.

    nogodbutallah making a general statement like that is unfair. Not all Americans are fat as not all of any nationality is any particular way. That's a very stereotypical and prejudiced thing to say. By the way, if you are so disgusted by Americans in general why do you choose to live among us? dontgetmestarted

    The fact that many Americans are fat and very unhealthy does not take away from the fact that this is a good place to do business. I personally eat healthy, I do not eat the fat food Big Macs that make so many Americans so very fat.

  • DeathRow-IFeelYourPain-NOT Sep 14, 7:30 p.m.

    Don't care. NOTHING will stop me fromt getting my Big Mac, Quarter Pounder w/cheese, Filet O' Fish, Egg McMuffin, Big Breakfast, etc. Oh... don't forget the King of specialty sandwiches... the McRib. I stick with the original sandwiches I grew up with. Almost never order the new-fangled burgers, salads, Mocca-junky coffees, etc. The ONLY thing McDonald's ever did that upset me was change their original Milkshake. They had Vanilla, Chocolate, and Strawberry. In a cup with a straw. DO NOT LIKE the new shakes with the frilly, girlie junk on top. You can keep the whipped cream and cherry. I'm a guy. I don't need to feel special.

  • dontgetmestarted Sep 14, 7:28 p.m.

    nogodbutallah making a general statement like that is unfair. Not all Americans are fat as not all of any nationality is any particular way. That's a very stereotypical and prejudiced thing to say. By the way, if you are so disgusted by Americans in general why do you choose to live among us?

  • Danny22 Sep 14, 7:28 p.m.

    If you really want to make a difference, limit food stamps so that junk and convenience foods cannot be purchased. Voila! 1 in 6 on food stamps will certainly make a difference.

  • dontgetmestarted Sep 14, 7:23 p.m.

    Agreed redstateblues. As far as the intelligent, thoughtful, etc,reply part I do try to be polite to those who respectfully agree to disagree as that is what adults do. I try to be grammatically correct as possible as I feel it's important to present yourself as best as you can whenever possible, although my fingers do get ahead of me at times and at other times I simply get frustrated at people and can't help myself, lol. I also applaud McDonald's as it says alot about how they view their customers. I also agree that banning any food/beverage is ridiculously over the top. That's like banning baggy pants which is another discussion altogether. Banning such things as this really solves nothing. Who's to say the Big Gulp is any worse than the Big Mac or any other food/beverage?!

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