Consumers' Estimation of Calorie Content at Fast Food Restaurants

Cross Sectional Observational Study

This study examines the extent to which customers underestimate fast-food restaurant meals caloric values at a total of 89 fast-food restaurants.

In an effort to prevent overweight and obesity due to increased fast-food consumption, new national policy will require restaurants to post calories on their menus. This study examines the extent to which customers underestimate fast-food restaurant meals caloric values.

This study included 1,877 adults and 330 school-age children visiting restaurants at dinnertime in 2010 and 2011, and 1,178 adolescents visiting restaurants after-school or during lunchtime in 2010 and 2011. A total of 89 fast-food restaurants including McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Wendy’s, KFC, and Dunkin’ Donuts, in Boston and Springfield, Massachusetts; Providence, Rhode Island; and Hartford, Connecticut were assessed in the findings. Study participants answered questionnaires and provided their receipts to researchers after their meals.

Key Findings:

  • Adults, adolescents, and school-age children all underestimated the calorie content of their meals, by -175, -259, and -175 respectively.
  • The calorie content of meals was 836 calories for adults, 756 calories for adolescents, and 733 calories for school-age children.
  • Subway diners underestimated the calorie content of their meal by -349 for adults, and -500 for adolescents. These Subway diners underestimated more than McDonald’s diners.

Among study participants, nearly one-fourth of adults, adolescents, and the parents of school-age children underestimated meal calorie content by 500 or more calories. As menu-labeling goes into effect at fast-food restaurants nationwide, these findings provide important information to understand people’s fast-food choices.

Most Requested