A Big Mac, a large Coke and large fries has 1,360 calories — more than three times the recommended 400 calories per meal.
Public health officials hope seeing calorie counts like these on restaurant menus and vending machines will lead consumers to make healthier food choices and help reduce obesity in America. But as Americans increasingly opt for meals outside the home, the battle’s quickly becoming uphill.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 requires restaurants with 20 or more locations to post calorie counts on menus. According to the Food and Drug Administration, 280,000 of the United State’s 600,000 restaurants will be subject to the new regulations.
In September, McDonald’s was one of the first large fast food chains to roll out the new menus.
Starting in 2013, the American Beverage Association is launching its Calories Count program with Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, where calorie information will be posted on vending machines. The program is first rolling out in a few cities, then going nation-wide.
Whether the up-front information will lead to healthier choices is still up for debate.
The fight against childhood obesity is also being waged in Linn County. Brookfield Elementary/Middle School Principal Melinda Wilbeck said her family does limit sugary drinks for the children.
"Although we could certainly do a much better job with consistency with our expectations,” admitted Wilbeck.
"Our children do have limits regarding the amount of sugary drinks they consume, in addition to the amount of 'junk' food that is allowed. We encourage the consumption of water and milk, in addition to offering fruits and/or vegetables at most meals.”
As far as the calorie information on vending machines, Vanessa Lincoln, Linn County Health Department administrator, had mixed feelings.
"Honestly, I don't know that just knowing the amount of calories in an item is going to defer a child from drinking it,” said Lincoln. “Especially when they don't see any immediate consequences from consuming the beverage. Honestly, I know the calories in a double cheeseburger and that doesn't deter me from eating one every once in a while. For there to be an evident impact on childhood obesity there has to be a change in behavior, from the parents, caregivers, teachers, health-care professionals, etc.”
Another local parent limits sugary beverages, but for more than just weight concerns.
"I do limit sugary drinks for my two boys,” said Monica Graves, a single mother. “They cause behavior issues in children. I limit all of their sugar intakes, to be honest. They drink a lot of water, and get juice at breakfast. The rest of the time they drink milk.”
Page 2 of 2 - — Dustin Watson contributed information to this report.