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I just read an article posted to HealthDay, titled “Many People Ignore, Miss Calorie Counts on Fast-Food Menus: Survey”. The article references a recent poll of 2,000 fast-food customers in Philadelphia, ages 18 to 64. The study found that few of those polled noticed or used the calorie information on the menus. Forty percent of the sample population noticed the information and only ten percent said they actually used it (aka made healthier choices based on the information). The study is published in the November issue of the journal Obesity.
I am a strong proponent of posting calorie and other nutrition content on menus, use the information myself, and think it’s a step in the right direction. Does it surprise me that most people don’t look at this information, nor use it to make healthier nutrition choices? No. They’ve been putting a Surgeon General warning, with skull and crossbones, on cigarette packages for years stating that “smoking causes cancer and can kill you”, yet people continue smoking. Those that are caught up in the contingency trap of bad dietary habits (e.g. they don’t see the negative results until things have gone way to far and they’re dealing with long-term issues), won’t feel compelled to read this information. On the contrary, they probably master the art of “not seeing it” (whether consciously or sub-consciously) They know the food their putting in their bodies each day isn’t good for them. Nobody buying a buttery, sugary, gargantuan cinnamon roll at Cinnabon, or sitting at the drive through waiting for their McRib, large fries and a 32 oz Coke is thinking “this is good for me”. They know it’s not good for them, they simply don’t care and are willing to turn a blind eye to the long-term impact, so that they can feed an immediate craving, or expedite their daily meal intake by way of rapid-fire convenience. It’s not that they don’t know. They know very well that these habits aren’t healthy. It’s just that the negative results aren’t immediate, and they choose to look the other way. Based on sample selection, the findings of this study shouldn’t surprise anyone. However, it doesn’t mean posting calories and other nutrition information is any less important.
We need to continue to push for information that will allow consumers to make more informed, healthy decisions. While we may be far from the point where the majority of consumers read and use these facts when making nutrition choices, it is critical to those that do want to make informed choices. It can also ensure more thoughtful consumers aren’t tricked by marketing campaigns or menu positioning and/or jargon. I know of many people who have opted for the “Chinese Chicken Salad” instead of the pizza at a US national restaurant chain, thinking they were making a “healthy choice”, when in fact the salad they were ordering had far more calories and fat relative to a small personal pizza. Once the chain began posting the calorie counts, such inadvertent ordering mistakes were no longer common.
Don’t be a statistic, and choose to operate outside of the norm of the N=2,000 sample of fast food consumers in the Philadelphia study. Make balanced, healthy choices when dining out, and ask for the nutrition information when it’s not clearly posted.
Small steps add up!!!