McDonald's serves up nutritional information

photo Items on the breakfast menu, including the calories, are posted at a McDonald's restaurant.

Foods Tops in Calories• Big Breakfast with hot cakes, no syrup or margarine: 1,090• Chocolate McCafe Shake with whipped cream and cherry: 870• Angus Bacon and Cheese Burger: 790Foods Lowest in Calories• Caesar Salad without Chicken: 90• Side Salad (without dressing): 20• Apple Slices: 15Source: McDonald's Nutrition Facts

A Big Mac and large order fries now comes with an extra dose of reality as McDonald's rolled out its new menu boards with calories counts on Monday.

But if you don't want to know you are about to eat 1,050 calories -- along with large amounts of fat and sodium -- you can always order your favorite fast food burger from memory and ignore the new information.

That seems to be what a large number of customers do, according to both national research and several Chattanooga McDonald's customers who visited the restaurant on Monday.

"A very small proportion of people actually remember they saw the calorie information and of the small number who reported seeing it, only a small portion of those actually changed their minds," said Jason Fletcher, an associate professor at the Yale School of Public Health.

The world's biggest hamburger chain announced last week that inside and drive-through menu boards would be updated with calorie counts this week -- even down to a single pat of whipped margarine.

It's a proactive move by McDonald's before a federal law goes into effect requiring food chains of 20 or more locations to post calorie information, possibly by sometime next year.

In addition the menu information, McDonald's has announced a goal to cut sodium an average of 15 percent across its menu by 2015 and reduce added sugars, saturated fat and calories by portion sizes by 2020. It will test offering more seasonal fruit and vegetable options and additional produce side options.

Research is mixed on the impact of placing calorie counts on menu boards, Fletcher said.

After Starbucks posted calorie counts, they saw a drop in some purchases such as scones and muffins, Fletcher said, but the actual impact on calories purchased was unclear.

A study done after New York City required restaurants to post calorie counts showed few people paid attention the information and even fewer changed their selections because if it, Fletcher said. It seems that if people make the decision to eat McDonald's food, they are not likely to pay attention to calorie counts, he said.

Research on a soda tax has shown the people may drink less soda if it is taxed, but will likely consume the same amount of calories in other drinks, Fletcher said. In the end, overall obesity numbers change little.

But several local experts said they think the new menus are at least a move in the right direction.

People who are trying to adopt healthier lifestyles regularly tell Dr. Jean Cates they appreciate when restaurants provide nutritional information, said the psychologist at Chattanooga Lifestyle Center. She would like to see more nutritional information about fat, protein and carbohydrates, but the calorie count is a beginning.

"It's a very positive thing -- information is power," Cates said.

From an impromptu survey of a dozen customers inside the Gunbarrel Road McDonald's on Monday morning, five said they didn't notice the new counts and it won't affect their orders anyway. Of the seven who did notice the listings, five said it would make a difference in the future, and two were ambivalent about it.

"I think it's a good thing to have listed," said Mary Lou Koscielniack. She and her husband, Dan, had stopped in for coffee after their morning mall walk at Hamilton Place.

"Especially if you want to try something new," he added of the nutritional updates.

Contact staff writer Mariann Martin at or 423-757-6324.

Contact staff writer Susan Pierce at or 423-757-6284.