First, do you know how many calories you should be consuming each day to maintain a healthy weight? According to the CDC, the normal weight for a 5’ 4″ female, depending on activity level, is between 108 and 145 lb. The Mayo Clinic calculates a 126-lb. woman should be eating about 1850 calories a day.  A 5’ 11″ male, weighing an average of 156 lb. should be putting away about 2300 calories.

Now, enter McDonald’s and their new national policy of listing calorie counts on their menus and menu boards. Surprisingly, the McDonald’s item with the highest amount of calories is not a burger. It’s a morning meal called Big Breakfast with Hotcakes (including large size biscuit) that contains a startling 1150 calories. If that Big Breakfast was polished off by our 126 lb. female, she would have wiped out more than half of her daily calorie allowance. Which means if she eats over 700 calories for the rest of the day, she’ll be stepping onto that rocky road leading more and more Americans to Fatland.

Another sky-high, four digit calorie item flirting with Fatland Road is McDonald’s Strawberry Triple Thick® Shake in the 32o-z size that totals (whew) 1110 calories. Not far behind is their Chocolate McCafé® Shake  at 880 calories for a 22-oz cup.

McDonald’s nutritional listings will also help clarify the calorie totals of certain foods that might not be immediately apparent. While five pieces of Chicken Selects® Premium Breast Strips come in at 660 calories, it turns out the addition of Creamy Ranch Sauce to that chicken ratchets the calorie count up another 170 for an overall total of 830 calories.

Customers will also be able to instantly compare the amount of calories in small, medium and large size helpings of various foods. Such as McDonald’s famous French fries, with the large size topping 500 calories and the small size coming in at less than half that at 230 calories.

While the amount of people eating in restaurants is steadily increasing, I was surprised at the actual percentage increase. Not only are Americans now consuming 33% of their calories on restaurant food, up from less than 25% in the 1970s, but they are blowing a full 50% of their food budgets in restaurants, up from 33% in the 70s.

The big question is — once McDonald’s and other restaurants offer complete nutritional information to their customers, will better-informed Americans start making smarter food choices? Will they chose to walk a more healthy path than the one leading to Fatland where more and more Americans are now residing? (Currently 34% of Americans are obese and another 34% are overweight.)

The studies about the topic go both ways. After Panera Bread posted calorie counts on menus in 2010, the company reported that 20% of patrons began ordering lower-calorie items.

And once Starbucks in New York City posted calorie info in its stores in 2008, customers ordered foods with an average of 6% less calories per order.

On the other side, the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity reviewed seven studies on the subject and concluded, “calorie labeling does not have the intended effect of decreasing calorie purchasing or consumption.”

However in Maryland, when McDonald’s recently grouped menu items under the heading, “Favorites Under 400 Calories,” the owner of multiple McDonald’s franchises reported “a lot of the moms are looking at it, but also, curiously enough, the teenagers are looking at it, too.”

It’s nice to imagine that beyond looking at it, they will be acting on it too.

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