The news that McDonald’s will post calorie counts right on the menu board won the fast-food giant some grudging respect from health groups who’ve accused the company of contributing to the national obesity epidemic. But there was also a fair amount of skepticism about the significance of the decision. After all, the argument goes, if you really care about calories you wouldn’t be in a fast-food restaurant in the first place, would you?
Posting calorie counts is no magic bullet in the war against obesity, but we think the McDonald’s move will have more impact than skeptics believe.
First, it’s a fallacy that fast-food patrons are all mindless munchers with clogged arteries who don’t care about nutrition or their waistlines. Plenty of people who would like to eat healthful food find themselves in fast-food restaurants because of time pressures, limited finances or a lack of options, and the revamped menu boards may help them manage their diets better. Secondly, repeated in-your-face exposure to the fact that your favorite burger comes with 500, 700 or, depending on how much bacon and cheese you pile on, maybe even 1,000 calories may just jolt some people into behavioral changes. Finally, choosing a fast-food entree that’s 100 or 200 calories lighter can make a big difference when repeated over time, especially for children.
McDonald’s is obviously acting in what it considers its best business interests — it’s betting that more information and more healthful options will bring more sales. Eventually, as part of the federal health-care law, all restaurant chains with more than 20 outlets will have to make similar disclosures. However, McDonald’s appears to be serious in its dedication to offering more healthful alternatives, such as adding apple slices and reducing the amount of fries in its Happy Meals and offering more lower-calorie entrees and snacks.