Most People Underestimate Amount of Calories They’re Eating at Restaurants, Study Finds

The study examined ordering habits at 89 fast-food restaurants
Wikimedia Commons/ Evan-Amos

If you were forced to take a guess as to how many calories are in your favorite fast-food meal, you’d most likely underestimate it, by a lot, a study released by the British Medical Journal reported.

For the study, the journal surveyed nearly 2,000 adults, more than 1,000 adolescents, and more than 300 children, and used  McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Wendy’s, KFC, and Dunkin’ Donuts in four New England cities as testing grounds.

"People eating at fast-food restaurants underestimate the calorie content of meals, especially large meals," the report claims. "Education of consumers through calorie menu labeling and other outreach efforts might reduce the large degree of underestimation."

So what exactly did they discover? On average, adults consumed 836 calories but thought that they were only eating 661, adolescents consumed 756 calories but guessed that it was 497, and children consumed 733 calories but thought that it was closed to 558. Overall, the adolescents were the most off in their judgment.

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Also of note is the fact that while most participants thought that a meal at Subway was healthier than one at McDonald’s, most ended up have very similar calorie counts, and that while the mandating of adding calorie counts to the menus of chain restaurants has improved  our overall perception of how many calories we’re consuming, it’s still not used as closely as it apparently should be.