Some public health experts are hoping that providing restaurant customers with information about the calories in the meals they are ordering will help control obesity. No one knows yet if such a program will be effective, but a new study shows that not all restaurant calorie postings are accurate. The research team went to 42 restaurants in Arkansas, Indiana and Massachusetts, and ordered 269 different take-out items. The restaurants included both sit-down and fast-food establishments. The take-out food was then analyzed in the laboratory to see how close the restaurants’ calorie declarations were.
Overall, they were pretty close, but about 20 percent of the items contained at least 100 calories more than declared on the menu. This discrepancy was most common with lower-calorie items. The variation was greater in items from sit-down restaurants than quick-serve places, perhaps because portion size was less standardized. There was also more variation in salads, desserts and high-carb side dishes than in sandwiches. The greater discrepancies among foods that are seen as good diet choices could undermine some folks striving to control their weight. The authors suggest that portion control in restaurants would offer public health benefits.