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Study Shows Parents Underestimate the Calories in Fast Food

By amberdoty |

Last month, I stepped off the early morning flight to New York City and speed-walked, luggage bumping along behind me, to the nearest coffee shop. God help the leisurely paced traveler who sauntered into my path, I was my worst type of me — caffeine-free me — and the safety of the public depended on me imbibing an $8 cup of airport coffee.

Of course, when I reached the first shop, the line was a dozen people deep. So, I joined the other New Yorkers in heaving an exasperated sigh while checking the time on my smartphone. I then turned my attention to the menu where something new caught my eye. Next to every item was the number of calories it contained. I was shocked to learn that the coffee I planned on ordering contained 700 calories, that’s almost half of the total number I should eat in a day. Instead, I opted for a drink I liked just as well for 125 calories. 

I’m no stranger to diets. I am a veteran calorie counter, but seeing all those numbers on that menu together made me rethink my choice during a time when I was not particularly watching my weight. Did I really need a high calorie coffee when I would be just as happy with a healthier option? Just like that, I was accountable.

Unfortunately, that coffee shop was an exception. In my hometown, I am not forced to look at the nutrition information when I order my morning coffee or my lunch when I choose to eat at a fast food place. It’s not just my food I’m ordering, however, and, like many parents, I am guilty of underestimating the number of calories my family is consuming when we choose to eat out.

According to a recent study, 72 percent of parents who buy their children adult-sized meals at fast food restaurants underestimate the meal’s calorie content. On average, parents guessed that the meal they bought for their child contained 562 calories. The actual calorie count? Over 700, with 21 percent of meals containing more than 1,000 calories.

Over one-third of participants also answered incorrectly when asked what the daily recommended calorie intake was for their child, a fact that Jason Block, MD, of Harvard Medical School believes supports the need not only for clear labeling of a food’s calorie information on menus, but also an anchoring statement that let’s people know how many calories an individual should consume a day.

As a parent, I would love to see nutrition information made more visible. I think my experience in the coffee shop would happen more frequently. It’s hard not to think about the fact that you are consuming an enormous amount of your daily allotted calories in one meal when you are forced to look at the numbers. Even worse, you are encouraging your child to do the same.

Is calorie content displayed on the menus at the restaurants in your town? Does it affect the choices you make for yourself and your children?

Photo credit: iStock photos

Read more from Amber on The Daily Doty and Babble’s Strollerderby.

Follow Amber on Facebook and Twitter.

More from Amber:
So Fresh and So Clean! 7 Ways to Teach Your Child Good Hygiene Habits
12 Parents in Need of an Intervention
10 Fun and Bizarre Sleeping Bags for Your Kid’s Next Camping Trip

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About amberdoty



Amber Doty is a writer, scientist, wife, and mother to two boys. On Babble, Amber wrote for both Strollerderby and KidScoop about parenting news, pop culture, raising school-age children and general parenting tips. More of her work can be found on her website, The Daily Doty.

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