If you knew how many calories were in the cheeseburger, pizza or French fries you were about to order, would you change your mind and opt for lighter fare?
It might not be a rhetorical question for much longer.
Fast-food chains in Canada are facing increasing pressure to post caloric information on menu labels as a way to combat rising rates of obesity and related health problems.
Those efforts could gain significant traction after a variety of fast-food giants recently pledged to post calorie counts on menu boards in Britain. McDonald's, as well as Burger King, KFC and Pizza Hut are among nearly 40 restaurants that are expected to begin posting caloric information in their outlets. And earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced changes that would also require chains in that country to post calorie counts on menu boards.
But not everyone thinks this is a step in the right direction toward improving the population's health – and the critics may not be who you'd expect.
While many public-health advocates argue that calorie counts are a good way to provide information, growing evidence from other experts in the field suggests such changes may not do any good.
For instance, one study of a group of university students published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition earlier this year found that knowing how much fat, salt or calories were in an item had no impact on the food choices they made.
Another study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine earlier this year, found no changes in consumer behaviour after the introduction of calorie counts on menu boards in one Washington county.
Some experts say that like other efforts, such as a proposed extra tax on junk food, menu labelling fails to address the root causes of obesity and ignores the complex network of solutions that are needed to address the issue.
The Guardian published a piece Monday by writer Mark King that sums up the criticism: "Does anyone really walk into McDonald's or KFC and not know there are healthier choices available? Moreover, how can anyone make an informed choice about food while staggering into a fast-food outlet after the pub has closed?"
Would you change your eating habits or fast-food choices if you knew how many calories were in the items?