Do fast food restaurants mislead their customers or is it that too many people simply don’t understand calories?
Harvard Goes Burger
Let’s start this one off with a paper Dr. J over at CalorieLab unearthed: Researchers from Harvard recently went to 89 fast food restaurants in the New England area and asked visitors to estimate the number of calories they had just eaten. This they then compared to the actual number.
How can I put this delicately? Many people were off. Sometimes really, really far off.
The mean number of calories in meals was 836, but the average guess put it around 661. That’s a difference of 175 kcal. To give this some context, let us say that an extra 175 kcal per day for a month means 1 1/2 pounds more fat will take up lodgings on your hips, tummy and buttocks.
Yet these actually were the good guys, who got at least somewhat close to the real number. Others – a whopping 25% of all participants – were off as much as 500 kcal. These people had eaten the equivalent of a cheeseburger, small fries and a medium Coke, but in their estimates the fries and Coke had never existed.
The Worst Was At Subway
The worst results were found at Subway, the chain that consequently maintained a “we are the healthier choice” image over the years, despite their offerings sometimes at least being on par with KFC, McDonald’s and the rest – one of their 6 inch tuna subs has 530 kcal, making it the equal of a McDonald’s BigMac.
But the Subway marketing efforts work: diners there on average underestimated their meals by 349 kcal, more than at any other fast food restaurant.
The closest approximation between estimates and real calorie content was found at McDonald’s and Wendy’s, which either means that these two chains are more honest (perhaps in the case of the former due to much public scrutiny) or have the more intelligent customers. Take your pick.
Who Is To Blame?
You tell me who is to blame for this: fast food restaurants engineering a reality dysfunction among their guests or people who don’t understand calories and weight maintenance?
Picture courtesy of Vincent Desjardins.