Fast Food Calories

In a devastating blow to the credibility of the Health Police, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania have Big Mac at McDonald'sdiscovered that no one pays much attention calorie counts in fast food restaurants.


A study of 1,121 adults at two McDonald’s in New York City revealed what most of us already suspected: People who go to fast food joints couldn’t care less about how many calories they’re consuming. “Putting calorie labels on menus really has little or no effect on people’s ordering behaviors at all,” said Dr. Julie Downs, the lead researcher.


There are probably a number of reasons for this, but the main one is a real news flash: People who go to McDonald’s don’t walk in with the intention of ordering something healthy. Just as no one reads Playboy for the articles, few of us enter McDonald’s in search of a meal that will enhance our physical well-being. In fact, calorie labels may even make things worse; in previous studies, respondents said they felt virtuous about ordering a Big Mac because it contained “only” 550 calories. This suggests that outside the world in which some of us live—the universe of granola, exercise and cholesterol-monitoring—large segments of the population have a very hazy concept of nutrition.


There are currently 34,492 McDonald’s restaurants on planet earth; 14,157 of them are in the U.S., which currently has an obesity rate of 78.3% of the population. What’s interesting, of course, is to go down the list and note the correlation between the number of restaurants in each country and the national fat factor, which are directly related in most cases. When all aspects of the Affordable Health Care Act are implemented, nutritional labeling will be mandatory nationwide, but the Carnegie Mellon study suggests that the effects will be negligible.


Sad though it may be, the only bright spot in this situation is that Mexico recently surpassed the U.S. in the percentage of obesity among their population. This suggests that Mexico’s current social problems are merely a blip on the radar screen. Forget about the drug war, thugs toting automatic weapons and huge numbers of senseless murders—those Big Macs will kill everyone in the end.


Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, published by Lyons Press (Globe Pequot); for more information, go to

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