The recent announcement by McDonald’s, the world’s largest hamburger fast food chain, that it will start listing calorie information on their menus in over 14,000 restaurants and drive-thrus, marks a significant step in the national effort to curb obesity and its associated costs for our country.
The food industry, and specifically restaurants, will be essential contributors to efforts to help improve the health of Americans; almost half of our food budgets (46 percent) in this country are spent on food consumed outside the home. By providing accessible calorie information to consumers ahead of a national rule that will eventually require all larger chain restaurants to offer similar information, McDonald’s is making a statement about the future of food service. This industry leader is signaling that providing more detailed information to consumers about the nutrition of their food is good business. This is a big deal.
Some are arguing that with the national rule coming down the pipeline this may simply be a smart PR move by the restaurant chain. But this is not a random or isolated act – indeed McDonald’s was experimenting this summer with new menu items and promotions of “Favorites Under 400.” In addition, in 2009, McDonald’s and the National Restaurant Association were key supporters of the legislation behind the forthcoming national rule that will require calorie labeling in fast food restaurants.
With this new information on its menus, McDonald’s will help the millions of customers who visit its stores each day to make more informed choices about what they are eating. We believe, and your average busy American will tell you, that clear calorie information will make McDonald’s a more attractive option to many consumers. This is the way of the future, and we will be watching eagerly as McDonald’s and other industry leaders increasingly take advantage of opportunities to lead the way with better information and healthier options.
Sally Smyth serves as an intern for BPC’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative and is a graduate student in public policy at the University of California, Berkeley.