Counting calories at McDonalds

Dec 20, 2011

Hungry? You might be craving that one restaurant in your neighborhood – you know the one. Whichever restaurant you’re thinking of, there’s one popular eatery that you can find in more than 100 countries nowadays for a good old-fashioned American meal.

MCDONALDS COMMERCIAL: Start off your day, everyday, with breakfast  variety at McDonalds! We love to see you smile!

Yes, McDonalds got its start right here in California back in 1948. Today, more than 60 million people drop by the Golden Arches every day. So what exactly are those people eating? Fast food chains are required to post the number of calories found in their food on site, but those numbers can be hard to find.

KALW News stopped in at a Bay Area McDonalds franchise to find out whether devotees knew how many calories they were consuming. One person we found was Amanda Starling, who works at UCSF Children’s Hospital. She knows how many calories an average person eats.

AMANDA STARLING: Well, 2,000 is standard, but depending on your activity level maybe less or more. I’m not very big, so probably a little less.

So about 2,000 calories. If you eat three meals a day, that’s just about 700 calories each.

PONCHO OCHOA: If you like the food, calorie don’t count.

San Francisco resident Poncho Ochoa is here at McDonalds, and so is Adam Weatherford, who works with adults with developmental disabilities in Redwood City. He loves the:

ADAM WEATHERFORD: McRib. Mmmm. It’s one of my favorites.

OCHOA: McRib? I didn’t try that? That’s a new product. No, I didn’t try that one yet.

And we also came across Mission High School student Jenny Vega, who eats fast food:

JENNY VEGA: Oh, like fast food in general? Once a week.

So how many calories do you think are in a cheeseburger?

VEGA: Oh, wow, in a cheeseburger? Um, I don’t know. I know there are a lot of calories, but I’m not really sure. Probably like 900 calories?

OCHOA: Oh, 800?

WEATHERFORD: Maybe like 800 calories? 1,000 calories?

STARLING: Threeeeee-fifty.

Pretty close. A cheeseburger’s actually got 300 calories. And what do you think about a large fries?

OCHOA: Large French fries? About 400.

VEGA: Like 800?

WEATHERFORD: Two hundred calories.

STARLING: Uh, a large French fry? Probably a lot. 500.

That’s right! A large fries’ got 500 calories. Last one: how many calories do you think are in a Happy Meal?

WEATHERFORD: A kids happy meal? Um, say like 600 calories, maybe.

VEGA: Like the whole combo? Probably, like, 2,000 calories?


OCHOA: Happy Meal, 200.

The correct answer is 640 calories, which is just about the right amount for a healthy meal – if it were for an adult.

Now, after seeing and listening to those four guess how many calories are in the foods they eat, the question is: did you know?

Shuka Kalantari is a health and culture reporter living in the Bay Area. This story originally aired on January 6, 2011.