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.

[JAMA, July 20, 2011]

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  1. Marcus

    I have to say – while restaurants understating the caloric value of items on their menus is definitely no good, this campaign as a whole is a great thing. Generally raising knowledge of what foods / meals are higher or lower in calories, and putting that information around freely is a great way to make sure people are aware and thinking about what they are eating… Thanks for the update :)

  2. abigail

    I am curious – where will the $$ come from to constantly check for accuracy? Not all labels of nutrients on grocery store products is correct now. Example: mayonnaise that lists a sweetener in the ingredients and a 0 for sugars in the contents box.
    As for obesity, could it be that more babies are being bottle fed instead of breast fed and that the bottled formula contains corn syrup? A good way to start an addiction to sweets.

  3. Rlb

    In the 1950’s, Dr Spock wrote a book regarding child rearing. One of his theories was that children cry because they are hungry. If a baby cries, feed it. This I feel has been and still is a major contributor to the obesity epidemic. Set up a pleasure cycle that involves food and it becomes a habit to eat to alleviate emotional problems.
    Most infants are sucking on pacifiers, again, oral gratification. Eating feels good, therefore, I eat. The same condition seems to create body blindness. Obese people recognize that they may be “slightly overweight”. When I see a young woman, or man, with an attractive face, who is a hundred pounds or more overweight, I want to cry.
    We are becoming a nation of fatsos plain and simple. All the government social programs to make eateries publish the calorie count is fruitless. It is up to the individual to take control of their lifestyle. Until people realize that sitting on their butts and eating too much is the reason they are fat, there will be no change.

  4. CAB

    A good idea that doesn’t go far enough. Calories are not the last word on weight loss, and are utterly irrelevant to many. Those of us on a ketogenic (low carb) diet are more concerned about the carbohydrate content (should be low) and the fat content (should be high). I have lost 50 pounds (and counting) without once paying an iota of attention to calories. But I do read the nutritional information diligently, avoiding foods high in carbohydrates and emphasizing foods high in fat.
    I would like to see this campaign – to help control obesity through information – be expanded to include carb, protein, and fat content. This information (and much more) is available on food products we purchase. Why not in restaurants?

  5. Conrad S.

    For overweight people the calorie count may be very good, however looking at a large menu could slow down service, lose restaurant customers and take away the fun of eating out. For fast foods it could slow service especially drive thru lanes.

  6. RMD

    No way this will work. People who are obese, know why they are obese. Unless they live on Mars, they also know which foods as well the quantities of these foods are making them obese.
    Losing weight permanently is a lifelong pursuit and requires dedication and discipline that is beyond either the ability or desire of most people. Obesity for most of us is both a Psychological as well as a Physical problem and has to be addressed as such. Few of us are ready to do what we have to do to go down this difficult road.
    It is not impossible, but like any serious addiction, for most of us it is an incredibly difficult addiction to break. Going to a restaurant that tells us how many calories an item is means little in our battle against obesity. We eat what we like and we eat lots of it. Remember the Seinfeld episode about the Non-Fat yogurt that tasted too good to be non-fat? Eating is surrounded by all the ageless myths of Family, Friends, Peace, Happiness, etc.
    Eating makes us happy …. for the moment, and most obese people by our nature compound the problem because we do not like to exercise, so we avoid it at every opportunity. Only a life altering incident will get us on the path to recovering from obesity, not a Restaurant Menu.

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