Calorie Information Wars: McDonald’s Versus the ‘Nanny Mayor’

Mayor Bloomberg has been fighting – along with city health commissioner Thomas Frieden – to force chain restaurants to display calorie information more prominently. Though he’s been labeled the “nanny mayor” by critics, Bloomberg insists that in a city where over half of the adults are overweight and a third of restaurant meals are taken at greasy, high-calorie establishments like McDonald’s and Burger King, people need to know what they are eating.

The city has some 23,000 restaurants, but only chain eateries that have multiple establishments  (such as the Golden Arches) will have to display calorie information on the menu placards. Though chain restaurants are only about 10% of the total number of establishments in New York City, one-third of meals come from this fraction of processed free radical laden chemical junk.

Under the new ruling – a similar attempt was overturned by the courts previously – the caloric value will have to be just as visible as the price of the item. Bloomberg and Frieden, along with their advocates, say that many folks simply don’t realize that a single meal of a burger and fries often supplies most of one’s daily calories. While restaurants counter that people can find nutrition and calorie information on posters, websites and fliers, those concerned about burgeoning obesity and diabetes rates say that more clearly must be done. (The proposal, if approved, would not take effect until next spring.)

What do you think? Is government intervention interfering with adult responsibility and the free market? Or is the long term lack of visible nutrition information irresponsible and unethical on the part of chain restaurants that typically serve unhealthy fare?

Speak up!

Further reading:

Want to get diabetes? Just follow the diabetes pyramid!

What Mark eats in a day

Mark’s carb pyramid

The Scariest Cheese Fried Ball Thing Ever

The 2,700 Calorie Appetizer

MWeber Flickr Photo (CC)

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19 thoughts on “Calorie Information Wars: McDonald’s Versus the ‘Nanny Mayor’”

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  1. Frieden says, “people need to know what they’re eating.” A list of calories does not tell you what you’re eating. All ingredients listed right down to what the cows and chicks are eating would be better(frightful). I’m not a calorie counter.

    Obviously fast food is responsible but you can’t blame Mcdonalds because you’re fat either.

    Government intervention? Most people who are concerned(obsessed) about their weight already know how many calories and fat grams are in, well, everything. Others might be shocked for a minute or two and then eat it anyway.

  2. I’m definitely against the proposed rules. It should definitely be available that they have it all (nutrition facts and ingredients) available right there easily. The problem is not only government intervention is that they apply them unfairly. Only the big chains. They cry that independents don’t have to do it and then the independents respond that they can’t afford to have each meal tested, they they change meals too often, etc. Basically though this boils down to me being against government intervention.

    There are so many things I could go on and on about with the government screwing up our health, that they have no relevance to me anymore. Granted it would be nice but the free market system should take care of it. Though you know most people don’t care enough about their nutrition to not eat their if they don’t provide the info. I was one of those people for the longest time.

    You would be lucky if it shocked a few people calorie-wise. They might then get the single instead of the double or not super size it. I doubt the vast majority of people would care about the quality of the ingredients. If one did really care, I would guess if there eating there at all or sparingly and eating what they believe fits the beliefs best.

    I’ve checked online and know which places (in general terms) I can grab some eats at and not feel guilty about it since I eat well the rest of the time. Only when traveling usually eat at a fast food place. I know the meat is going to be of inferior quality and I’ll never get fries or hfcs laden soda.

    Got to quit before I start going off on some rant. I’m sure I lost the coherent flow I had when I started typing. Damn work interfering with my goofing off again.

  3. I think the reasons restaurants balk at having to display this information is because they know it will hurt business.

    I might know that a cheeseburger isn’t great for me, but if I know it contains 700 calories, you can be sure I won’t order it. Putting the calorie information on the food items is stupid, because once you’ve bought it, you’re going to eat it, even if you see that it has 29 grams of fat (which is the case with a Big Mac).

    I wrote a post recently about the caloric nightmare that is Chili’s menu. Even the “healthy” options aren’t great for you. And people focus on the fat in these foods but the sodium is off the charts.

    This is one instance where I don’t mind a little government interference. The obesity epidemic in this country needs to be contained somehow. And yes, we are all responsible for our choices, but something is wrong when a double cheeseburger can be had for a buck, but you need a six-figure paycheck to be able to shop at Whole Foods.

  4. I think anything that gets in the way of McDonald’s and there evil greasy empire, is fantastic!
    They are systematically poisoning our youth and targeting our country’s poor people. Specifically, McDonald’s goes after blacks and Latino people’s, watch there disgusting commercials and see, they don’t even try to hide it. McDonald’s shame on you!

  5. Everyone knows the score about what is served at these places. There are better things for the City government to do.

  6. Over the last five years, we taxpayers have forked over an average of $16 billion a year in farm subsidies, most of which funded feed crops for livestock. As long as the US government continues to keep prices of grains, grain by-products like HFCS, and grain-fed animals artifically low, one cannot talk honestly about personal responsibility and choice in making food purchases. McDonalds top selling menu items, from the wheat buns to the burgers to the fries, are made from government subsidized foodstuffs.

    Obviously, it wouldn’t be feasible to list complete nutritional information on a menu, but providing calorie counts wouldn’t clutter the menu, and like Beth, I would consider calorie counts when making ordering choices. There definitely are hidden calories in seemingly healthy dishes, usually in the sauces or flavorings.

    High carb, low, the bottom line is that our bottoms are too big because we eat too much. Yes, converting protein to stored fat burns up a few more calories than converting carbs, but it is the amount of processed food period that is killing us. When I look at what overweight people are eating in restaurants, I see large portions of refined carbs like pasta, fatty sauces, and slabs of protein.

    Anything that might encourage our nation of gluttons to eat less is a good thing for our health and for the planet.

  7. This is exactly the kind of government intervention I do want. I don’t want government legislating behavior or prohibiting things. I just want them to make information available so I can make an informed decision. They should do this everywhere and make sure ALL restaurants do it, not just the big chains. In fact, it would probably be more valuable with the smaller places since they’re the ones who have no nutritional information available anywhere.



    I have seen NO hard scientific evidence that even a small share of obese people will change 1) what they eat for a single meal, or 2) their long-run eating habits, when presented with clear nutritional information while ordering, buying, or preparing food.

    In fact, just yesterday I was in an all-day meeting that provided me an anecdote indicating just how ridiculous this fast food calorie policy is. Half the folks at the meeting were significantly overweight. They were all college educated folks with sedentary jobs; all were in their 40s or 50s.

    Box lunches were brought in. Each contained a moderately healthy sandwich or wrap, a bag of apple slices, a 200 calorie bag of potato chips, and a large factory-sealed cookie.

    One woman noted that each cookie had 300 calories. Wow! Then a man noted that each cookie was actually two servings, for a total of 600 calories!

    Everyone had a good laugh, but that made me pay attention: would you believe that the woman still ate the cookie, and so did 1/2 – 3/4 of the people there?! These people know damn well they shouldn’t be eating a 600 calorie cookie, even made a joke out of it, yet a majority of them ate it.

    Heck, I had put my uneaten chips and cookie next to the unopened box lunches. Somebody took both!

    So go ahead, nannies, make obese people look at calorie information at McDonalds. Hopefully, if it makes you feel better about yourself, because it likely won’t do anything for them.

  9. Obese people, no, Kevin, because obviously they do little or nothing to maintain a healthy weight and wouldn’t be detered even by graphic images of calcified arteries or diabetic amputees. But that doesn’t mean that nobody would benefit by having a few centimeters of space devoted to calorie information. I read labels, I know other people who read labels, and if some people change their choices based on calorie information, then the law has made a difference. After all, Lean Cuisine and other low-cal frozen food products post their calorie and counts and fat grams in large print on the front of the package, so apparently, brand marketers at international food giant Nestle think that some folks use simple nutritional info to make consumer choices.

  10. If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it. If you have to ask how many calories it contains, then you shouldn’t eat it. And if you are eating at McDonald’s, you don’t care about your health.

    If consumers really wanted this information, they would demand it. But, again, no one thinks a Big Mac is healthy. Yet millions are eaten anyway.

    People, as a rule, won’t do anything hard to improve their long-term health. Anyone who has worked as a trainer or dieting consultant can attest to that.

  11. I absoutely disagree, Mike. Knowing the specific caloric content of an item does make a difference.

    Years ago, I wanted a Haagen Dazs chocolate almond ice cream bar. I knew it wasn’t health food, but at that moment, I didn’t care. I walked over the the 7-11, I picked it up, I flipped it over, I saw that it contained 28 grams of fat, I put it back, and I’ve never eaten another.

    Will everyone behave this way when confronted with the actual calories in the food they’re about to eat? No. But if even a small percentage of people do, we’ve gained something.

    Displaying calorie information prominently won’t create a financial hardship for the likes of McDonalds, a company that regularly changes its signage. The likes of McDonalds doesn’t want people to really know just how bad their food is.

    I care greatly about my health, Mike. And some days, I’m just crunched and don’t have anything in the house. So I go for the occasional McDonald’s grilled Asian salad. The best choice in the world? No. But hardly a Big Mac. So places like McDonald’s do have a place in society. It’s just time they’re held more accountable.

    People whine about the cost of healthcare in ths country, yet when the goverment tries to do something simple on a broad scale to help curb the obesity epidemic, they say it’s a fool’s errand? I say it couldn’t hurt. It’s not the only solution, to be sure, but every little bit helps, just like cutting a few calories here and there adds up to a pound lost.

    You have to start somewhere. Why not start with one of the biggest industries in the country, which also happens to be one of the biggest contributors to the problem?

  12. Has McDonald’s come out with numbers on how much this regulation would cost them?

    I think if the government thinks it’s important to have calories published, it should foot the bill.

    My feeling is that the benefit that would come from such a regulation would not justify its costs for some of the same reasons mentioned above (high cost, won’t affect behavior much, etc.).

    1. You mean other than in the form of subsidies for basically all the stuff McDonalds uses to make its food? It’s already been mentioned that McDonalds changes its signage regularly. The cost involved would almost certainly be minimal.

  13. For all the crying of government regulation and the beauty of the “free” market, a properly functioning free market depends on both parties to a transaction being given fair information about the product being considered. If we don’t force them to put the calorie count (or the trace pesticide content) of their food labeled right there next to the name and price, of course they will hide it.

    Which would you buy? “$2.99 Gourmet Burger 900 kcal, 1ug pesticide” or “$5.99 Burger 500kcal No pesticide”

  14. My apologies for commenting twice, but this is good:

    In Japan I am quite used to seeing calorie counts, right there on the menu at not just fast food places, but chain sit-down restaurants of even respectable quality. I don’t know the regulatory structure in place, but most places here that are corporate run have calorie counts (even karaoke parlors often list the calorie count of their cocktails!)

    I find the calorie count helps draw my attention before buying something I would not necessarily have otherwised noticed seems to contain tons of low-grade oil calories.

  15. The govt. has- forced us to wear seatbelts, labelled cigarettes, and booze. Why not food? We are in dire straights with elementary kids getting kidney stones from too much sodium (soda) and getting fat. It’s a start…

  16. McDonalds has all nutritional info listed on the web, and often on the back of the paper placemat sheet, and often in pamphlets in the outlet (at least here in Canada). It sounds like stupid pointless overkill. Post all the info you want, and people will just joke about it or ignore it because they don’t know enough to interpret its significance.