Cruise down the aisles of your nearest grocery store, and you’ll notice one similarity among all the boxed cereals, canned soups, and bottled juices: a nutrition label. In 1990, Congress passed the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, which required all food manufacturers to affix nutrition labels to their products. Ever since, you haven’t been able to pick up a box of Fruity Pebbles without acknowledging a single serving contains 110 calories (150 if you add skim milk) and 9 grams of sugar.

Now, America’s global fast food ambassador – McDonald’s – is adding to the buzz kill.

McDonald’s & Obesity

In September, McDonald’s began posting calorie information on all menu boards in its U.S. restaurants. The move comes in response to years of criticism aimed at Ronald and friends, blaming the hamburger chain for America’s obesity epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just shy of 36 percent of American adults are clinically obese, defined as having a body mass index, or BMI, over 30. And with each McDonald’s cheeseburger having 300 calories, it’s easy to see where the connection between McDonald’s and obesity began.

Counting Calories: Inaccuracies

But McDonald’s is working to change its image. Since a May 2012 published study found less than one in six American adults can accurately estimate the number of calories they need to maintain a healthy weight, McDonald’s is working to provide its diners with the missing information.

In addition to appearing on all in-house menus, the calorie information will also appear on all drive-thru menus. At the same time, McDonald’s is launching a voluntary education program for all its employees; the goal is to teach restaurant workers this nutrition information, so they can accurately respond to questions about the healthiness of the food on McDonald’s menu.

Menu Modifications

McDonald’s is quick to point out that adding the nutrition information to its menus is only part of the plan to improve the health of its customers. A September press release by the McDonald’s brass lists several menu changes the company is planning to roll out in 2012, among them an increased focus on seasonal fruits and vegetables, healthier side options for kids’ meals, and more whole grain menu items.

McDonald’s has always been a place where you could feed a family of four not just for under $25, but for under $10 – but often at the expense of counting calories or eating a balanced diet. Now, the chain is trying to reverse its image – or at least alter it. It remains to be seen whether their attempt will work, whether it will drive sales up, down, or change the types of people who frequent its restaurants.

Reader, have you noticed these changes at McDonald’s? Will they have any impact on your fast food choices?

Originally published on October 15th, 2012

Libby Balke

Libby Balke