McDonald’s Corp., the world’s biggest restaurant chain, will begin posting calorie information on menu boards at its U.S. stores next week as it works to stem criticism that its food causes obesity.
The chain also will test healthier items, such as egg-white breakfast sandwiches, 350-calorie sweet chili chicken wraps and more produce side items, to add to its menu in 2013, Oak Brook, Illinois-based McDonald’s said today in a statement. Calorie counts will be listed on menus inside restaurants and at drive-through windows, the company said.
“We feel it’s important to do this for our customers,” Jan Fields, president of McDonald’s USA, said at a press event in Washington today. “Calories are just part of the story.”
The burger seller is making efforts to improve nutrition and disclose more about its food after being criticized for selling unhealthy items amid a national obesity epidemic. More than one-third of adults and about 17 percent of children are considered obese in the U.S., according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
A Big Mac sandwich at McDonald’s has 550 calories, while a 12-ounce vanilla milkshake has 530 calories.
Posting calorie counts will have a “significant public health impact” because “nutrition information on websites is pretty well hidden and people don’t notice it much,” said Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington consumer advocacy group.
McDonald’s decision “does put pressure on other restaurants to follow suit,” Wootan said.
A U.S. health-law mandate requiring chain restaurants with more than 20 locations to post calorie contents of fare may take effect later this year. The proposed regulation, issued April 2011, is a part of President Barack Obama’s health-care reform legislation.
“In 2008 New York City pioneered the requirement that chain restaurants post calorie counts and one year after our law went into effect, not only did customers say they used the information to make decisions but those customers purchased fewer calories than their counterparts,” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement today.
“I want to thank McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson for his leadership on this important public health issue,” he said.
McDonald’s has recently touted a “Favorites Under 400 Calories” menu, which includes the Filet-O-Fish sandwich, Egg McMuffin and medium fries, to attract U.S. consumers. The chain has struggled to draw Americans as competitors step up promotions and add menu items.
Sales at McDonald’s U.S. locations open at least 13 months rose 3 percent last month, trailing analysts’ estimates as growth slowed from a year earlier, the company said yesterday. McDonald’s has more than 14,000 domestic restaurants.
Last year, the fast-food chain began putting apple slices and smaller packets of fries in all of its Happy Meals in U.S. stores. The change reduced calories in kids’ meals by 20 percent, the company said in a statement at the time.
The company also may add grilled Chicken McNuggets and low-fat dairy items to its menu, Greg Watson, senior vice president of menu innovation, said in Washington today.
McDonald’s franchisees, who own about 90 percent of U.S. stores, will be responsible for the cost of adding calorie counts to menu boards, Fields said.
Darden Restaurant Inc., owner of the Olive Garden and Red Lobster dining chains, also has made efforts to provide healthier meals. The Orlando, Florida-based company is working with first lady Michelle Obama’s Partnership for a Healthier America to cut the calories and sodium in its food by 10 percent during the next five years, it said in September 2011.
McDonald’s fell 0.4 percent to $90.82 at the close in New York. The shares have slid 9.5 percent this year.
The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.