Call it the McDonald’s effect. Every time researchers test to see whether posting calorie counts on menu boards for Big Macs, fries, and shakes will drive consumers to order less calorie-laden options they come up with disappointing results.
In research published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health, Carnegie Mellon University researchers handed information on recommended calorie consumption to New York City diners heading into McDonald’s both before and after the city began requiring fast-food chains to post calorie counts on menus in 2008. Between then and now, the researchers found that calorie consumption didn’t drop at all and actually increased a bit. That indicates that people — at least those who go to McDonald’s — are for some reason gravitating toward higher calorie meals.
A 2011 study from New York University School of Medicine researchers also found that posted calorie counts didn’t alter ordering choices at Wendy’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King, and McDonald’s. But the researchers didn’t provide pamphlets educating people on how many calories they should be consuming as they did with the new study.
Other research at fast-food establishments such as Subway found that labeling calories did make a difference; the authors of the new study concluded that it could be that the “different clientele” who may patronize Subway also make more attempts to lower their calorie intake when they see the counts posted in front of them.