With Calories Hard to Guess, Washington Voters Want Answers on Menus


King County and Other Menu Labeling Policies Needed in State

April 17, 2008

OLYMPIA, WA—Quick, what at McDonald's has the most calories? A Big Mac, two Sausage McGriddles, a large chocolate shake, or four hamburgers? If you guessed a Big Mac, you’d be in good company. And you’d also be wrong.

According to a new statewide poll commissioned by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the American Heart Association in Washington that was the top guess of the 500 Washington voters quizzed. But the large chocolate shake at McDonald’s has more calories (1,160, as it happens) than those other menu items. The health groups behind the poll say the results show that most people have a hard time guessing calorie counts of typical restaurant meals. The poll showed that fewer than 10 percent of Washingtonians could identify the lowest or highest calorie menu items at popular chain restaurants.

About 60 percent of those surveyed support the King County Board of Health's ordinance that requires fast-food and other chain restaurants to list calories on menus and menu boards, and about the same number would like to see a menu labeling policy adopted statewide. The groups say that the poll results should reassure policy makers of public support for menu labeling in King County as well as support from Washingtonians statewide.

"Almost everyone failed this quiz," said Lucy Culp, government affairs director the American Heart Association in WA. "Restaurants don't make customers guess when it comes to prices; they show them on the menu. There's no reason to keep vital nutrition information from consumers, and many good reasons to provide it."

Most Washington voters guessed that at Quiznos either the Steakhouse Beef Dip or the Baja Chicken with Bacon sub has more calories than the Classic Italian or the Tuna Melt. Only 4 percent guessed the right answer: the Tuna Melt, which has 1,420 calories when it comes with cheese and dressing. The Steakhouse Beef Dip with cheese and dressing actually has the fewest calories, 730. Similarly quizzed, few guessed correctly about items at Burger King (5 percent) and Pizza Hut (11 percent).

"Most people know that much of what's sold in fast-food chains isn’t health food," said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. "But who would think a shake could be worse than four burgers, or that a steak sub turns out to be lower in calories than the tuna? Without access to nutrition information, it's impossible to make informed choices when eating out."

Under pressure from restaurant lobbyists, the state legislature pressed King County to enter into a compromise with the restaurant industry and amend their menu labeling policy. That compromise is expected to be adopted today by the Board of Health. The compromise measure will keep nutrition information primarily on or in menus and on or near menu boards. The new policy will greatly increase King County residents' access to nutrition information, though is not as strong as the policy originally passed by the board, which required nutrition information to be directly on menus and menu boards.

The survey was based on 500 interviews conducted last week among likely Washington State voters and was conducted by the firm of Grove Insight. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.4 percent.

 

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