McDonald’s: Publishing Calories Won’t Make People Thin

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McDonald’s Corp. (NYSE: MCD) will begin to post the number of calories in all of its foods on the above-the-counter and drive-thru menus of its nearly 14,000 U.S. stores. The world’s largest fast-food chain has decided to do what it will have to do soon anyway because of new laws. The decision supposes that customers might eat less high-calorie food and opt for McDonald’s salads instead. No large body of evidence indicates that has worked with other foods. Items sold in stores have carried nutritional data on their labels for years. Sales of Hershey bars and potato chips have not suffered.

Cindy Goody, senior director of nutrition for McDonald’s USA, said when the program was announced: “It’s a new reason to visit more often.” Indirectly, that means customers can get fatter faster. How many hamburger eaters will turn into salad eaters because they are told how many calories are in the foods they like? There is no reason to think that carnivores will become vegetarians. Most McDonald’s customers probably know that buckets of french fries and thick shakes are not low-calorie items.

Health advocates think the decision by McDonald’s is a victory for them. The action by a company as large as McDonald’s will prompt other restaurant chains follow suit. At some point, even the smallest restaurant in America will post the nutritional value of what it serves.

Health advocates actually cannot brag about any victory at all. The worst foods, from the standpoint of health, will stay on the McDonald’s menu. The company might even introduce products that have higher calories counts than food it serves at its locations now. It cannot be assumed that a label that shows a meal has 1,500 calories will make people turn to something more slimming.

Douglas A. McIntyre