Traverse City Record-Eagle

Food

September 13, 2012

McDonald's new menu item: Calorie counts

Healthier options are being tested, too

NEW YORK (AP) — McDonald's restaurants across the country will soon get a new menu addition: The number of calories in the chain's burgers and fries.

The world's biggest hamburger chain on Wednesday announced that it will post calorie information on restaurant and drive-thru menus nationwide starting Monday. The move comes ahead of a regulation that will require major chains to post the information as early as next year.

"We want to voluntarily do this," said Jan Fields, president of McDonald's USA. "We believe it will help educate customers."

In cities such as New York and Philadelphia where posting calorie information is already required, however, Fields notes that the information has not changed what customers choose to order.

"When it's all said and done, the menu mix doesn't change," she said. "But I do think people feel better knowing this information."

The Oak Brook, Ill,-based company is also testing healthier options for next year, such as an Egg McMuffin made with egg whites and a whole grain muffin. The sandwich has Canadian bacon and white cheddar cheese and clocks in at 260 calories. It will be called the Egg White Delight.

The chain is also testing versions of the McWrap, which is a bigger version of its Snack Wrap that is already sold in Europe. The wraps have sliced cucumbers and are less than 350 calories.

The posting of calorie information isn't a magic bullet in fighting obesity but could have a big effect over time, says Margo Wootan, director of nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which advocates on nutrition and food safety issues.

"Obesity isn't the kind of thing where one day you wake up and you're fat. We gradually and slowly gain weight over time," she said.

So even if only some people are swayed to make slightly better choices, Wootan thinks there's a big benefit to providing calorie information.

Another upside is that companies tend to work harder to provide healthier options when they're forced to display calorie information.

"It can be embarrassing, or shocking, so they end up changing the way the product is made," Wootan said.

The moves also reflect the pressures McDonald's and other fast-food chains are facing amid growing concerns about obesity.

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