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Time To Stop Ignoring Those Calorie Counts On Fast-Food Menus

LOS ANGELES, May 29, 2013 () – Here’s the reality when it comes to most consumers and calorie counts on fast-food menus: We deliberately don’t look at the numbers. It’s true. Yes, you see all of these surveys about how more people want to see the exact calories of that Big Mac they’re eating. But in reality, most people don’t want to look at the numbers when it comes to fast food, because those numbers are so high that people simply prefer to ignore them.

But according to new research by Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, it may be time to take a look at the numbers.

According to the research, U.S. teens underestimate calories in fast-food meals by 34%, compared with 23% by parents of school-age children and 20% by adults in general. Twenty-five percent underestimate calories in their meals by at least 500 calories.

Some more numbers from the research:

---Teens' fast-food orders contained an average of 756 calories, but teens underestimated their orders by an average of 259 calories.

---Adults ordered meals containing an average of 836 calories, but they underestimated by 175 calories.

---School-age children got meals that had an average of 733 calories, but their parents' estimates were 175 calories too low.

These figures indicate two critical things for fast-food consumers like me:

1) We need to start looking at the numerical data on the menus.

2) We need to be aware that when it comes to fast food, the numbers add up quickly. Getting those fries supersized or asking for extra dressing on that burger can increase the calorie load in a hurry.

This is one example where quick-service restaurants are doing us a service by providing us with the health data. Now it’s up to their customers to take advantage.

Nevin Barich is the Food & Beverage Analyst for IndustryIntel. He admittedly ignores the calorie counts on fast-food menus, but in light of a recent study, he may just have to start. He can be reached at

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