Have you ever ordered a salad at a fast food joint thinking you won’t blow your diet even though you’ve already eaten out 3 times this week? Trying to guess the calories in fast food meals is like trying to play pin the tail on the donkey blindfolded and intoxicated. Chances are you’re not going to get it right.
A study published in BMJ looked at visits to 89 fast food joints that didn’t provide calorie information on the menu, including Wendy’s, Burger Kind, Dunkin Donuts, McDonald’s, KFC, and Subway. It’s interesting to note that the chains did provide nutrition information in places besides the menus, such as posters on walls, napkins, or cups. Researchers asked adults, teens, and kids how many calories they thought they consumed during their meal. Then they compared their answers to the actual calorie counts based off their order.
What happened? Two-thirds of the diners underestimated the calorie content of the meal. 25% underestimated by over 500 calories. Adults averaged a 175 calorie discrepancy, 259 for teens, and 175 for kids (which were reported by parents). Average meals for adults were 836 calories, which is 41% of an average recommended 2,000 calorie diet for just a single meal. Kids meals shockingly averaged 733 calories.
Participants underestimated high calorie meals more than low calorie meals and 65% of adults were overweight or obese.
Bonus tidbit: the fast food restaurant calorie bombs that were underestimated the most were from Subway, the unofficially dubbed “healthy” fast food.
What this study tells us is that it’s more important than ever to get calorie and nutrition information on menus, not just make it available if you’re looking for it intentionally.