Fast-Food Eaters Underestimate Calories

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COLUMBIA - Some Columbia residents underestimate how many calories they are consuming when they eat fast food, echoing a study by the British Medical Journal.

The study showed adults underestimate calories in fast-food meals by 34 percent, parents of school-age children by 23 percent, and adults by 20 percent.

On average, teens' orders contained 256 fewer calories than they guessed. Parents and adults both underestimated by about 175 calories.

KOMU 8 News talked to some Columbia fast-food goers to find out their perceptions of what they were eating.

At one Hardees, Jeff Krunwiebe said his double cheeseburger was 200 calories, while Jarod Kerns said his five Red Burrito tacos totaled 600 calories. According to the Hardees nutritional menu, a double cheeseburger is actually 480 calories and five tacos total more than 1,000.

Chelsea Munich said her McDonald's ten-piece chicken nuggets and medium fries were 600 calories, but they total almost 900.

All three people were off by more than 200 calories, consistent with the study.

"I would agree with that pretty much across the board," said dietician and diabetes educator Jennifer Polniak. "I think that there are very few people who actually can correctly estimate what exactly calorically they're taking in."

When the Affordable Care Act takes effect in 2014, it will require restaurants with at least 20 locations to post calories on their menus. This will affect more than 40 chain restaurants.

But a study published in the American Journal of Public Health found posting calories on menus may not encourage healthier choices. The study found people choose food for taste and convenience rather than its calorie count.

Chipotle Manager Chris Lambert said some people may not want to know the amount of calories they are consuming.

"It might blow their mind and make them realize they need to start eating healthier," Lambert said. "There might be some out there that underestimate, but I would guess nine times out of ten they just don't want to know."

But Polniak said posting calories on fast-food menus is still a good idea.

"I think it's a great idea for fast food, for any restaurant, to put the calories on the menus," Polniak said. "It creates an awareness for those who are really wanting that information, it gives them a reference point, and it helps them to fit the fast food into their daily intake in a way that will keep them healthy."

Some fast-food restaurants, like McDonalds, have already posted calories on their menus. As of June 25, all U.S. Starbucks locations posted calorie information on menu boards and pastry labels.