McDonald’s menu calorie counters: will they work?


Vikki Hartt and Kelly Rickert, Opinion Co-Editor


Vikki Hartt

Are you watching your weight, or trying to keep track of what you’re eating? Well, there’s good news. McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants are now posting calorie information on their menu boards, both inside the restaurants and at the drive-thrus. But, will this make an impact on people’s decisions when it comes to ordering?

Yes, I think it will. According to the Center for Science in Public Interest, 78% of Americans support nutrition menu labeling. Menu labeling is an important way to address obesity and other health risks at restaurants because menu labeling makes it easier for customers to pick a healthier option. A study by Stanford University on Starbucks showed that 14% of customers choose healthier options when provided with nutritional information.

The calorie menus were made available nationwide in McDonald’s starting September 10, following the Supreme Court decision to uphold Barack Obama’s healthcare regulations.

According to McDonald’s USA president, Jan Fields,

“it is not mandatory to post the calorie counts [as yet], but the company has chosen to post them voluntarily to educate people and allow them to feel better knowing what they are actually eating.”

It’s not just McDonald’s that has turned to this new trend. Other restaurant chains, such as Applebee’s and Outback Steakhouse, are also including calorie counts on their menus.

If you are conscious about your weight or health, I think this is a great tool you can use to help make smarter choices about what to eat.

Center for Science in Public Interest study:


Kelly Rickert

While it may be a good idea in theory, I do not believe that the posting of calorie counts on menu boards will affect customers’ orders because people are going to order the food they want regardless of the calorie count. Fast food customers are already in the habit of purchasing their favorite meals, or some sort of junk food, when they go to fast food restaurants. They do not care about the calorie count.

According to the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, or IJBNPA, “calorie labeling does not have the intended effect of decreasing calorie purchasing or consumption.” There are several reasons for this. For instance, a great deal of McDonald’s customers order by the pictures, not the words, on the menu. They see the burger, they want the burger, and they order the burger, without reading the written calorie count posted next to the colorful photograph. Furthermore, some customers do not even order by the pictures, but by habit. They walk or drive in and order their usual meal number without even looking at the menu.

Even if the customers do read the calorie counts, McDonald’s makes its money on people looking to splurge and purchase junk food. Their customers already know that what they’re eating is not going to help them with their diet. They go to fast food places like McDonald’s solely to satisfy a craving. People know that the fries and burgers have high calorie counts, but choose to order them regardless of their nutritional value, or lack thereof.

Overall, while it may be nice to know how many calories are in the meal you are ordering, I don’t think it will make a change in the buying patterns of the majority of McDonald’s customers.

Study by the IJBNPA: