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Who Counts Calories At Fast Food Joints? Obese Teens, Girls

iStock_000016458993XSmallI admit to being swayed by the calorie counts on menus whenever I go out to eat. If two dishes appear equally appetizing, I’ll nearly always choose the one that has the lower calorie count.

I will also admit to believing that very few people notice or care about how many calories they are consuming when they eat out. But I am happy that a study published last month in the Journal of Public Health has educated me as to who actually pays attention to those numbers and is swayed by them.

The study, which consisted of a mail survey, sampled 721 youth ages 9 to 18 and asked, “When calorie information is available at a fast food/chain restaurant, how often does this information help you decide what to order?” They were also asked their age, gender, height, weight, and how often they ate out.

While a majority of the respondents (57.6%) reported not paying any attention to the calorie counts, a surprising 42.4% did. That is big news, according to lead author Dr. Holly Wethington. “It is encouraging that a large number of youth, particularly youth who are obese, reported using the calorie information. This may have potential to lead to improved food and beverage choices as a way to manage weight,” Wethington said.

The study found that obese youth were 70% more likely to use the calorie information than normal-weight youth, and girls were 80% more likely to use it than boys.

However, the study also highlights another issue. As Professor Lindsey Davies, President of the UK Faculty of Pubic Health, said, “It’s good news that some young people want to understand mor about the food they’re eating and are using calorie information when they eat in fast food restaurants. But to tackle obesity effectively, we need to know more about why so many young people do eat fast food so often.”

Perhaps calorie counts on menus isn’t a solution to the country’s obesity problem, but perhaps it is a step in the right direction.

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