From Wallet to Waistline

Americans who take advantage of larger sizes for just a few pennies more when eating out may be getting more calories than they bargain for, according to a new report by a coalition of health organizations. The report found that the food industry's "value marketing" encourages overeating and contributes to the skyrocketing rates of obesity in adults and children.

"Americans are constantly induced to spend a little more money to get a lot more food," said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). "Getting more for your money is ingrained in the American psyche. But bigger is rarely better when it comes to food."

From Wallet To Waistline: The Hidden Costs of Super Sizing, was issued by the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity (NANA), a coalition of over 225 national, state and local health organizations. The report compares the price, calories, and saturated fat in differently sized foods from fast-food chains, convenience stores, ice cream parlors, coffee shops, and movie theaters. Among the findings:
  • Upgrading from a 3-ounce Minibon to a Classic Cinnabon costs only 24% more, yet delivers 123% more calories. The larger size also provides almost three-quarters of a day's worth of artery-clogging saturated fat.
  • Switching from 7-Eleven's Gulp to a Double Gulp costs 42% more, but provides 300% more calories. Those 37 extra cents deliver 450 extra calories-more than you'd get in a McDonald's Quarter Pounder.
  • It costs 8 cents more to purchase a McDonald's Quarter Pounder with Cheese, small French fries, and small Coke (890 calories) separately than to buy the Quarter Pounder with Cheese large Extra Value Meal, which comes with a large fries and large Coke (1,380 calories). "McDonald's actually charges customers more to buy a smaller, lower-calorie meal," Wootan said.
  • Moving from a small to a medium bag of movie theater popcorn costs about 71 cents-and 500 calories. A 23% increase in price provides 125% more calories and two days' worth of saturated fat. (And that's unbuttered popcorn!)

According to the report, the practice of "bundling"—turning a fast-food sandwich into a "value meal" by adding sides like fries and a soft drink-is responsible for some of the largest increases in calorie content. And fountain drinks proved to be especially bad health bargains. They cost the least to upgrade and deliver the biggest calorie boosts (and they provide some of the highest profit margins for retailers).

Have It Your Way
"So what can consumers do right now?" asked Melanie Polk, RD, director of nutrition education at the American Institute for Cancer Research. "We can speak up. Say 'small,' say 'half,' and share."

By speaking out, Polk said, consumers let the food marketer know that they want healthy meals. "Order a small or half-size. Share that bucket of fries or bladder-bursting drink with friends. Keeping those extra cents in your wallet means keeping extra pounds off your body, and that's more important than ever."

"If you walked into a McDonald's in the 1950s and ordered a burger, fries and a 12-ounce coke, you'd have bought a meal with about 590 calories," said Carol Tucker Foreman, director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America. "Today a popular super-sized meal may contain 1,000 calories more. As a result, we're super sizing our kids and super sizing ourselves."

That's why consumers should decline to take advantage of "more-for-less" marketing practices, even if it may seem cost-ineffective, says Polk. "It's penny-wise and pound-foolish to order more food than you really want, just because it seems like a bargain," she says. "Let restaurateurs and retailers know that you want reasonable portions at reasonable prices. After all, restaurants pride themselves on responding to customer demand."
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Member Comments

I haven’t eaten fast food for at least a year. Report
Very seldom eat fast food. Now I know why. Report
I never eat fast food. Report
I don't eat fast food. Except when a friend invites me. Report
It is important to have it "your" way in all restaurants. I 'budget' in a rare hamburger but never add the accessories. I'll pay for water to drink or bring my own instead of buying soda with empty calories. Report
Good article. Report
Portion control is all I can say & you can have a burger or shake but not daily. I remember when I was kid McDonalds was once every 3-7 months. Now I can't drive by McDonalds & youngest grand baby thinks we should go all day long. Key figuring out healthier options to replace those repeated bad ones.... Report
This article really hits home. I saw a niece and nephew of mine yesterday. Ages 10 and 9. Both are overweight and are often bullied at school. I have noticed that the only food that they "like" is fast food. When offered healthy food that have a fit. My family and I have attempted to talk to their Father, but our concerns do not seem to help. Report
A lot of folks are *single*, so *sharing* may not be a viable option here - just sayin'......
One of my favorite "diet" restaurants is Burger King. Here me out: I get the grilled chicken sandwich, which if you haven't had it in the last year or so, is awesome now. It contains no cheese. I order it with no mayo. I get a side of Kung Pao sauce instead, which isn't the healthiest thing on the planet, but when I'm out to eat I take small liberties to enjoy my meal. For the side, I get the salad, which also has improved. I get whatever low cal vinaigrette they have (balsamic?) and use half. You really don't need the whole thing. I hate to waste, but it is much too much dressing. Sometimes I get a value menu onion ring order too. Sometimes I get the bundle and have the salad be my side and get my own drink, sometimes I share my drink with my boyfriend. Either way, it is diet soda.

I'm not sure on the cost, because I've learned not to try to eat healthy and cheaply at the same time at a fast food restaurant. However, the onion rings, salad and sandwich come out to under 600 calories with the sauces. That's less than I often eat for dinner at home. Works for me. Not something I recommend eating every day, but if you sometimes have no choice but to eat fast food as do I, there are some acceptable choices out there. Report
I think it is a good idea that some show the calories to help people like me make informed decisions. I don't know where they hide the calories! Report
Did someone catch me indulging on Saturday? Report
on the rare occasion we get to eat out, usually hubby (not on a diet by any means!) gets his own super-sized whatever combo. the kids (11, 8, and 6) all get a dollar-menu whatever, usually chicken of some form or a jr whopper if we're there, and split mom's diet whatever and fries. i get some form of chicken (or jr whopper, though the patties are so much smaller now-smaller i think than mcd's hamburger-and the price has almost doubled, from 99 cents a couple years ago to $1.89 now!!) that is a rare occasion, i will say, especially since hubby's on temporary disability from workman's comp (praying he will be released back to work soon and not on permanent restrictions). Report
This junk is nutritionally bereft and isn't on my's Frankenfood...I wouldn't feed it to pigeons... Report
I would like to see us stop feeding this to our children. It's not good for them, either!!
Plus it just makes them develop the taste for it. Report


About The Author

The American Institute for Cancer Research
The American Institute for Cancer Research
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is a charity that has contributed more than $70 million for research on diet and cancer. AICR educates Americans how to make dietary changes to lower their cancer risk.