New Poll Shows Calories Hard for New Yorkers to Guess

80 Percent Want Nutrition Info on Chain Restaurant Menus Statewide


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 New York State Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Alliance, that was the top guess of the 900 New York state voters quizzed. But it's the large chocolate shake at McDonald’s that 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 15 percent of state residents could guess the lowest or highest calorie menu items at any chain restaurant in the survey.

New York Assemblyman Felix Ortiz has reintroduced legislation that would require all New York State restaurants with more than 5 outlets statewide and more than 15 outlets nationwide to post calories on menus and menu boards. The measure is nearly identical to the popular measure enacted by New York City’s Board of Health with the support of Mayor Mike Bloomberg. The city will begin issuing fines for noncompliant restaurants on July 19th, and already, Starbucks, Chipotle, Subway, and other chains are displaying calories on menu boards.

"Most fast food isn’t exactly health food, but the calories can range from modest to astronomical," said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. "Nobody’s going to guess that a shake could be worse than four burgers. Even professional dietitians get it wrong when they see the food right in front of them. Without nutrition information it’s near impossible to make informed choices."

Most New Yorkers 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 7 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 (9 percent) and Pizza Hut (15 percent).

"Obesity has risen to epidemic levels all over New York and the entire country," said Assemblyman Ortiz. "Rates of cancer, diabetes, hypertension, heart attack, stroke and countless deaths are related to obesity and poor nutrition. Together we can combat the problem of obesity and this legislation is a step in the right direction toward giving people the tools they need to make better food choices," said Ortiz

The survey was based on 900 interviews conducted in April among New York State adults and was conducted by Zogby International. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.3 percent.

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Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at] or Ariana Stone (astone[at]