Study: Americans Are Clueless About How Many Calories Are Actually in Their Fast Food

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We all know that eating a lot of fast food is bad for our health. That doesn’t stop almost 40% of us from doing just that every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Of course, many fast food outlets are increasingly offering healthy — or at least comparatively healthy — options on their menus, and since 2018 the FDA has required chain restaurants to list calorie information clearly on their menus.

That means that before we dig in, we should all know exactly how many calories are in that Whopper or that red cardboard sleeve of McDonald’s fries.

Right? Apparently not.

According to a new study called Perceptions vs. Reality: Chain Restaurant Food, conducted by Treadmill Reviews, 41% of the 977 people surveyed underestimated the calories in a cheeseburger and 60% were off — by an overall average of 101 calories — in their estimate of the calories in an order of fries.

The survey covered typical servings of those two menu items, along with cheesecake, chicken salad, milkshake, and fried chicken. These aren’t even the most caloric fast food items — these are the foods with the most calories.

Interestingly, respondents thought fried chicken had more calories than it actually does (the estimates averaged out to 446 calories; the real number is 330). On the other hand, people were far off when it came to cheesecake, estimating 421 calories while the caloric truth is 720.

Respondents underestimated the calories in chicken salad by 56 overall and those in a milkshake by 10. Despite the fact that so many people underestimated the calories in a cheeseburger, many overestimated them, too, to the balance was 21 calories more than reality.

Knowing how many calories a person is consuming is key to preventing weight gain and the negative health outcomes that come with it. But exercising and burning off energy is also crucial to maintaining a healthy weight or losing a few extra pounds. Find out how long you need to exercise to burn off the calories from your favorite foods.