Menu Site Makes It Easy To Compare Restaurant Fat Stats | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : News

Filed Under:

Menu Site Makes It Easy To Compare Restaurant Fat Stats

New York City became a leader in pushing restaurants to be more transparent when it required calorie counts on menus in 2006. Now the city's health department has developed a new tool for those who'd like even more detailed information about restaurant food.

MenuStat, launched Thursday, aggregates information about the calories, fat, sodium and more in over 35,000 menu items at major chain restaurants like KFC, Pizza Hut and Qdoba. It also allows users to compare items from different restaurants and see how they have changed, nutritionally, over time.

The concept isn't new. MenuStat pulls its information from data on 66 restaurant websites that's already publicly available. (Sites like Eat This Not That and MyFitnessPal already do this, too.)

But Christine Johnson, acting assistant commissioner for the department's Bureau of Chronic Disease Prevention and Tobacco Control, says the tool is unique in that it tracks how the top 100 restaurants by sales change their dishes year-to-year.

The site shows that Chili's, for example, cut calories in dozens of items between 2012 and 2013. It's hard to know, though, whether they changed the dishes or shrunk serving sizes — the site collects serving-size data for some restaurants, but not Chili's.

Ultimately, the site might encourage chains like Chili's to continue making their menus healthier by subtly shaming them into following suit.

"We're always interested in how we can make the information more transparent and clear," Johnson tells The Salt.

But can sites like MenuStat really make a dent in American waistlines? A number of studies have found that posting calorie counts on menus doesn't sway consumers to choose lighter fare.

And while Johnson says the department has to trust the data provided by restaurants, the accuracy can vary wildly. Add an extra patty or some special sauce and the calories in your combo meal could quickly pile up.

And with no companion app and a poor mobile interface, it would be difficult to use the MenuStat while waiting in line to order. Johnson concedes that it may be most useful for researchers and journalists — and consumers who want to plan what to order ahead of time.

"It's more likely the consumers are going to think, 'What are my salad options?' and look at three to four options from different restaurants," before they head out the door, she says.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

No Small Feat: The NBA's Shortest Player Never Gave Up

At 5 foot 3, Muggsy Bogues holds the record as shortest player in NBA history. Criticism of his height started on the basketball courts of the Baltimore projects, and continued well into his career.
NPR

Tracing A Gin-Soaked Trail In London

Around the world, new gin distilleries are popping up like mushrooms after a rain. NPR traces the boom to its historic roots in London, which once had 250 distilleries within the city limits alone.
NPR

Ranting And Throwing Papers: An Angry Candidate Runs For Congress

State Rep. Mike Bost's rants on the Illinois House floor are the stuff viral dreams are made of. Bost says he has good reason to be upset, and wants voters to share his anger.
NPR

Israel's Solar-Powered 'Trees': For Smartphones And Community

The man-made trees are designed to create a public space where people can gather and re-charge a battery — their own and their smartphone's.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.