Chain restaurants with lower-calorie options gain popularity, while those that don’t lose

Restaurants are now offering lower-calorie options to combat obesity rates that are higher than ever.

Today, 39 states have adult obesity rates of more than 25 percent, and not one state has a lower rate than 20 percent, the Hudson Institute reported in its February 2013 Obesity Solutions Initiative.

Due to the national epidemic, many chain restaurants are trying to help lower these numbers by offering healthier options.

Training Manager John Hanes said, for the past four years Applebee’s, 4929 E. Pickard Rd., has offered plates under 550 calories and menu items with trademarked Weight Watchers point totals.

“We definitely have gained a strong base for our healthy options,” he said. “They go over very well.”

Hanes said the move toward lower-calorie options comes from social pressures, including first lady Michelle Obama’s healthy eating initiative “Let’s Move,” along with advertisements promoting health and wellbeing throughout Michigan.

“We’re doing extra things to be a healthier state,” he said. “We need to adopt or get out of the arena.”

Twenty-one restaurant chains, including Burger King, McDonald’s, Cracker Barrel and Taco Bell, now offer lower-calorie menu items.

Offering healthier and lower-calorie options is gaining customer support.

Between 2006 and 2011, chain restaurants that offered lower-calorie food and beverage items recorded a 9-percent sales growth, whereas chain restaurants that did not incorporate healthier options recorded declines over 16 percent.

Restaurants that offer lower-calorie options also increased restaurant customer traffic by nearly 11 percent, while chain restaurants that did not incorporate healthier options saw a decrease in traffic growth by nearly 15 percent.

The lower-calorie menu criteria consists of entrees under 500 calories, side dish options under 150 calories, beverages under 50 calories and appetizers and dessert options under 150 calories.

Along with healthier options, the restaurants also noticed French fries declined in number of servings, by nearly two percent, and share of total food servings. Lower-calorie beverages also outperformed traditional beverages.

Harrison Township senior Kiara Lancaster said healthier menu options cater to her vegetarian lifestyle, which is typically lower-calorie to begin with.

Lancaster works at Panera Bread, 2111 S. Mission St., one of the 21 chain restaurants with lower-calorie options. She said many customers tell her they eat at Panera because of the calorie listings on the restaurant’s menu.

“I love the fact that the calories are clearly listed on the menu. There (are) no secrets,” Lancaster said. “It also challenges the restaurants to reduce calories if they know it will have to be shown to the customers.”

Although the International Journal of Obesity found fast food choices aren’t influenced by calorie labeling, Caro senior Jordanne Jaskiw said having the calories posted on the menu helps her decide on healthier choices, which she said she has noticed recently at McDonald’s.

“Healthier options will broaden which fast food chains consumers eat at,” she said. “I think that calorie counts on menu items are a very good source for those people who are trying to diet and eat healthier.”


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