Updated 09/17/2012 05:52 PM
Does calorie count add up to healthier choices?
It's touted as a tool to help customers make better decisions when ordering from a fast food restaurant. McDonald's begins rolling out new menus with calorie counts nationwide this week, but do the numbers add up to healthier choices? YNN's Tamara Lindstrom sat down with an expert to find out.
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UNITED STATES -- Starting this week, McDonald's patrons across the country will see more than just the number of their value meal on the menu.
"At every one of their restaurants, it's going to be very easy to figure out exactly how many calories are in each of their items on their menu," said David Just, co-director of the Cornell University Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition. "They've been forced to do this already in a lot of big cities, like New York City or Seattle, and they're going to roll it out nationwide now."
A big step that may be motivated by more than customer service.
"The primary motivation here is they're going to have to anyway," Just said. "With new regulations that were put in place with the Affordable Care Act, across the board, everybody's going to have calorie postings."
While it may be an attempt to educate consumers on what exactly they're consuming, Just says those numbers will have little, if any, impact on how customers order.
"The majority of people go in there and this just does not change what they decide to buy."
Studies have shown most customers don't even notice the new information, and those who do don't necessarily know what their daily calorie intake should be.
"People don't understand that, for the most part. And despite that, if they're given that information it doesn't seem to make much difference in how they behave," Just said. "If they were interested, they would already know it."
Even dieters tend to go for the higher calorie options.
"They're probably not going to be, at that point, looking for the lowest calorie items. They're looking to splurge," Just said.
People who are looking to eat lighter may get a shock from the new numbers.
"Especially from the salad items and other things like that at McDonald's. It may seem a little strange, but it's exactly that. It's counterintuitive," Just said. "Those have relatively high calories."
But the bottom line seems to be most people concerned about the calorie counts aren't stopping at the golden arches in the first place.
The expert pointed out that while McDonald's has tried to add healthier items to the menu, studies show they don't seem to sell very well.