Expert: Many Underestimate Calories

Health Advocates Want To Force Restaurant Chains To List Calories On Menus

The calorie labeling in New York would not apply to "calorie Meccas," like Chinese restaurants, delis, and fancy French bistros. The chains were singled out because they already publish nutritional information about their food, the idea being that they've already done the calculating.

Wendy's spokesperson Denny Lynch say's that's unfair. "In essence, you are penalizing the restaurant chains that are voluntarily providing information to consumers," Lynch argues.

"But if you weren't already providing it, you were exempt?" Stahl asks.

"Yes. That is absolutely right," Lynch says.

"What was the thinking on that?" Stahl asks.

"You'll have to ask the board of health," he replies.

"The industry feels you're picking on the chains because they were doing something positive and they get whacked for it," Stahl tells Commissioner Frieden.

"We're saying, 'If you're doing it, put it where people will actually see it. Empower your consumers,'" he replies.

But what's healthy for consumers may not be healthy for business. In 2003, the chain Ruby Tuesday tried listing calories on its menus. Sales dropped. Soon, most calorie numbers vanished.

"Aren't you truly afraid that by listing the calories you're going to lose money?" Stahl asks Wendy's spokesperson Denny Lynch.

"Absolutely not," he says. "If we were afraid to provide the information, why would we voluntarily provide it?"

"What restaurants are doing now is a sham. They're putting information on Web sites. And they know perfectly well that very few people see it there. They put it there so they can say they're doing something good," Frieden argues.

"What do you say to parents who are concerned that their children are overweight, and they want this information?" Stahl asks Lynch.

"I say to them that if you have a computer, log on to our Web site, and you can see that information," he says.

"That's not easy! You're going to go take your kids out to dinner, you've worked all day, and you're telling them to go to a computer?" Stahl asks.

"We think that the poster is a good solution," Lynch says.

The poster Lynch is referring to was introduced last year by Wendy's with lots of nutrition numbers, calories amongst them. But as opposed to other displays in bright colors, the poster is drab and easy to miss.

"If people are interested in calories or they're interested in…," Lynch says.

"But what if they're not interested in calories?" Stahl asks.

"They're probably not going to look anywhere for it. If they're not interested…," he replies.

"Well, if it's on the menu board, there it is. They won't have to look for it," Stahl remarks.

"If you can provide accurate information," Lynch says.

He says that because Americans love to customize -- adding cheese or extra mayo -- providing accurate information is nearly impossible and would certainly take the "fast" out of fast food. Lynch showed 60 Minutes a Wendy's menu board that lists the combos.

"At Wendy's we offer five substitutions for the fries and then three types of drinks. So you can order a combo 234 different ways," Lynch says.

He then showed Stahl what it would look like: a dense, cluttered board, with tiny type. "Obviously … no one can read it. And you would have to see this from eight feet away," Lynch explains.

"Let me see. This is absurd. Oh my gosh," Stahl remarks.

This problem isn't unique to Wendy's. Consider Starbucks, where you can order drinks 87,000 different ways. A cup of Joe can be five calories, but order a Vente White Chocolate Mocha, add milk and whipped cream, and it nears 800 calories. Dunkin' Donuts made a mocked-up menu board to show Commissioner Frieden it would be unreadable.

"This is what they said they would have to do," Frieden says, showing a menu-board with small letters and numbers.

"Ok. Well, that is pretty tiny and I think if I were in the store and that was way up high I would have trouble seeing it," Stahl remarks.

"Very hard to read. So we asked our print shop at the health department, couldn't you do this more clearly? And in just a couple of hours they came back with this," Frieden says, pointing out an easier-to-read health department version of the same menu board containing all the same information.