This is just the sort of “perfect

storm” that we can welcome any season of the year.

During a May 2008 keynote speech at the mammoth National Restaurant Association trade show in Chicago, McDonald’s chief exec Jim Skinner said the restaurant industry is facing a “perfect storm” of challenges, including local government demands for point-of-sale nutrition information of meals and foods served.

Skinner said local ordinances requiring calorie counts on menu—most notably already in place in New York City and adopted in Chicago—are “redundant and flawed.”

OK, one adjective at time. Redundant? How so? New York is halfway across the country from Chicago. Neither city’s home state has calorieson-menu laws. And, hey, if you want to talk redundant, just spin through the last few decades of McDonald’s ad campaigns.

Flawed? If McDonald’s has a better idea for presenting nutritional information at the cash register, we’re all ears and, let’s hope, a little less tight around the waist.

What New York has now made law a requirement that chain restaurants must post calorie counts for its items right there on the menu board or menu with prices. That means you will be able to estimate the calories in that burger or Caesar salad before making your choice. One of the chain-restaurant arguments is why not impose the calorie count on menu requirement on all restaurants?

Answer: Chain restaurants are able to handle that expense better than independent operators. Plus, face it, franchise restaurants stake their business on tasting the same in Toledo and Tucson.

McDonald’s is lauded in some circles for including nutrition information on its webite. The Daily Health Blog—or the DHB—agrees, yes, good job and the megacorporation has long been out front on web info. You can even

find nutritional info on tray liners and selected packaging.

Yet it is not hard to figure out why franchises don’t want the calories info right up there with the price. America’s obesity tidal wave is not about to be stopped or even stemmed by listing calories and fat content online. Knowing that the Caesar salad you are about to order might carry more calories and unhealthy fat than a bowl of chili is the sort of decision point, right there on the menu, that can make a difference.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group in Washington, D.C., has one question to help persuade any one who doesn’t deem calorie counts on the menu as much of a difference-maker: What has the most calories at McDonald’s: A Big Mac, two sausage McGriddles, a large chocolate shake or four hamburgers?

Most people guess Big Mac, according to an American Heart Association survey conducted in Washington state.

Most people are wrong. The large shake is the gut-buster at 1,160 or more than half a day’s calories for most active adults. The heart association further showed most people can’t pick the highest or lowest calorie count when presented a multiple choice of items from franchise restaurants.

Another example: Respondents were asked to identify whether a tuna melt, steak and cheese sub sandwich, chicken and bacon sub or classic Italian meat sub represented the highest caloric intake. Just 4% guessed the tuna melt, which is a whopping 1,420 calories and makes the steak sub (including cheese and dressing) seems positively svelte at a still formidable 720 calories.

“Almost everyone failed this quiz,” says Lucy Culp, government affairs director the American Heart Association in WA. “Restaurants don’t make customers guess when it comes to prices.”

Keep those perfect storm clouds coming.

Further Related Reading: