09 Sep 11 UK: McDonald’s introduces calorie counts to menu
Want a Big Mac? That’ll be 490 calories… As of Sept 7, McDonald’s has voluntarilly replaced menu boards in all its 1 200 UK restaurants in compliance with the government’s Public Health Responsibility Deal, so that they display the calorific value of each product it offers, including condiments. This is a bid to help Britons stick to the recommended daily consumption of 1 940 calories for women and 2 550 for men.
At Cannon Street, central London, where the effort was rolled out on Monday before being extended to the rest of the country, a full list ranged from a bottle of mineral water (calories: 0) to a formidable 20-piece ShareBox of Chicken McNuggets (835). A Hash Brown clocked in at 130; a Belgian Bliss Brownie three times as many.
Most customers, reports The Guardian, welcomed the initiative – even if it did present them with a greater quandary at the till than they were expecting. One customer said it brought “clarity” to his lunchtime choices: “It’s good to see how many calories I’m having.” But he added: “I think that people know that McDonald’s is what it is … I don’t think it’ll make people walk away.”
He was perhaps right in surmising that, despite having the truth laid bare for them at the point of purchase, most customers would end up ordering exactly what they had fancied when they came in. According to research carried out by the company itself among 2 000 of its customers, fewer than one in five – 17% – said that calorie information would make them think more about what they were eating.
The Department of Health believes nudging people towards healthier food with the use of clearer labelling could help tackle obesity. Along with McDonald’s, chains such as KFC, Burger King and Pizza Hut have signed up for the labelling pledge and the department hopes more than 5 000 high-street food outlets will document calories by the end of this year.
Andrew Lansley, the health secretary, says the policy would help consumers “spot those hidden calories in their favourite foods and keep an eye on their waistlines”.
Many, however, are sceptical of how effective calorie labelling will be. Research carried out this year in New York, where calorie labelling has been mandatory in fast food restaurant chains since 2007, concluded that only a minority of people were put off the more fattening options.
Dr Paul Gately, a professor of exercise and obesity at Leeds Metropolitan University and adviser to McDonald’s, said: “One can’t deny the positive impact giving consumers choice and giving them information can have. It’s a no-brainer to provide people with information to make informed choices.” But there was no data to show it could translate into a big impact on health, he said: “These sorts of nudge methods won’t tackle real obesity.”
Other commentators says that while publishing calorie counts is an excellent way to give consumers an indication of the amount of food they are eating, it is hardly representative of the nutritional value of what is on offer: “The problem with a lot of McDonald’s fare is that the portions appear small, are quick to consume and don’t fill you up so you feel hungry again quickly and go back for more.”
The Big Mac, the new menu board reveals, is worth a total of 490 calories. The most fattening item available is a white meat option: the Chicken Legend burger which weighs in at 535 calories. Featuring two layers of overly yellow square cheese, the Quarter Pounder is another heavy weight option providing 490 calories.
The above can be sampled accompanied by Medium Fries (330 cals), a full fat Coke (170 cals) or perhaps a Medium Milkshake (420 cals). The Garden Salad (10 cals) seems health enough and the Medium Cappuccinos on offer (90 cals) are far from extraordinarily calorific. Chicken Nuggets (250 cals without sauce) are relatively sinless and the Filet-O-Fish is the leanest burger available at 350 calories.
Source: The Independent; The Guardian