By Nanci Hellmich , USA TODAY
Many diners are gobbling far more calories in their fast-food meals than they realize, a new study shows.
underestimated the calories in fast-food meals by 34%; parents of
school-age children by 23%; adults by 20%, says lead researcher Jason
Block of Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care
Block and colleagues surveyed about 3,400 adults, teens
and parents of school-age children who visited 89 fast-food
restaurants, including McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, Subway, Dunkin'
Donuts and Wendy's. People were asked to estimate the calories in their
meals, then the researchers collected their receipts and figured out how
many calories the meals actually contained. The study was conducted in
2010 and 2011.
Among the findings, published Thursday in BMJ, a journal of the British Medical Association:
• One-fourth of participants underestimated the calories in their meals by at least 500 calories.
Teens' fast-food orders contained an average of 756 calories, but they
underestimated their orders by an average of 259 calories.
• Adults ordered meals containing an average of 836 calories, but they underestimated by 175 calories.
• School-age children got meals that had an average of 733 calories, but their parents' guestimates were 175 calories too low.
Diners at Subway underestimated the calories in their orders by a
larger amount than diners at McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, Wendy's and
"These large underestimations show that diners
don't really know what they are eating in terms of calorie content, and
they need this information to help guide their choices," Block says.
could get it from the company websites or in some other form in the
restaurants, such as wall posters, napkins or cups, but soon they'll be
directly faced with it when they see it on the restaurant menu boards
before they order their meal. Customers can already do this at
McDonald's -- and in some cities," he says.
The study was funded in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.