Calorie checking: Local nutrition specialists weigh in after McDonald's posts calories in restaurants

Published: Monday, Oct. 5 2015 8:14 p.m. MDT

Calories of each food item appear on a McDonalds drive-thru menu in New York. A provision tucked in the massive health care reform bill mandates the posting of calorie information on restaurant menus. (ED OU, AP) Calories of each food item appear on a McDonalds drive-thru menu in New York. A provision tucked in the massive health care reform bill mandates the posting of calorie information on restaurant menus. (ED OU, AP)

With McDonald's now posting calories on its menu at restaurants nationwide — and with other restaurants and soda makers poised to follow suit — local nutritionists wonder how much the move will help in the fight against obesity in the United States.

"I don't think it's serving the whole population to post it somewhere," said Elena Yorgason, president of the Utah chapter of the International Association for Eating Disorder Professionals. "Maybe it'll create more awareness. At the same time, the more we know do we do better? I don't know if that's necessarily the case.

"We're already in an information flood regarding what we should and shouldn't do, but we're not doing much better regarding our choices."

In September, McDonald's updated its menu to list calories next to menu options. Other restaurants are expected to follow suit because of the recent health care bill the Supreme Court upheld. The bill mandates that calories be posted on menus for chain restaurants, according to The New York Times.

Soda-manufacturing giants Pepsi and Coke will also be posting calorie information.

"Soft-drink makers, including Coca-Cola and Pepsico, say they will list the calorie counts for sodas directly on the buttons of their vending machines," Liz Neporent reported in an ABC News article.

Lately, soda-pop companies have been under attack for causing obesity, according to ABC News.

However, a study conducted by Stanford University found caloric consumption dropped only 6 percent after New York City Starbucks started posting calories on its menu.

"According to the study, beverage choices at Starbucks are unaffected by calorie posting," said the report. "However, calorie posting leads consumers to buy fewer food items and to switch to lower calorie food items."

Behavior hasn't changed much for consumers where calories have been posted for awhile on menus in New York City and Philadelphia, according to The New York Times article.

"I think that it's nice because the people have the information so that they can have an informed choice," said Suzanne Ware, a registered dietitian and board certified specialist in renal nutrition with the Dialysis Program at the University of Utah. "But I don't know how much difference it's going to make. It just depends on the individual person.

"It's almost a matter of educating people so they can make the right choices and that's just a nice tool for them to use in making their choice."

Yorganson focuses on intuitive eating with her clients, who have eating disorders. One way she teaches people to be healthier in their eating habits is by helping them avoid external measures, like counting calories.

"I never talk about calories and numbers to my clients because they are all calorie and number obsessed," Yorgason said. "The information itself is not going to solve the problem but how we use the information is going to."

Ware believes many Americans are misinformed in dealing with nutrition.

"There's a lot of guessing and a lot of misinformation that's out there," said Ware. "There's a lot of things on TV. One comes to mind — 'Dr. Oz' — people quite enjoy him but often times the information he gives out is not correct."

Ware recommends visiting eatright.org, a site sponsored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, where people can find local health professionals.

"The calories at the end of the day are a piece of the puzzle but not a solution to the problem," Yorgason said. "You could have a 2,000-calorie meal and hardly have any nutrients in to fuel your body."

Ware agreed with the notion that counting calories isn't a complete solution.

"Watching your calories and keeping your weight where it belongs is a lifelong thing. It isn't short-term," Ware said. "Getting more exercise and activity is something else that helps with the calories too.

"There are some people, interestingly enough, who need more calories and so trying to make restrictions on people in saying that you can't have these foods is not wise because people do need more."

Email: ehong@desnews.com Twitter: @erinhong

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