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posted: 9/12/2012 9:13 AM

McDonald's new menu item: Calorie counts

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Associated Press

NEW YORK -- McDonald's restaurants across the country will soon get a new menu addition: The number of calories in the chain's burgers and fries.

The world's biggest hamburger chain on Wednesday is announcing that it will post calorie information on restaurant and drive-through menus nationwide starting Monday. The move comes ahead of a regulation that will require major chains to post the information as early as next year.

"We want to voluntarily do this," said Jan Fields, president of McDonald's USA. "We believe it will help educate customers."

In cities such as New York where posting calorie information is already required, however, Fields notes that the information has not changed what customers choose to order.

"When it's all said and done, the menu mix doesn't change," she said. "But I do think people feel better knowing this information."

The Oak Brook-based company is also testing healthier options for next year, such as an Egg McMuffin made with egg whites and a whole grain muffin. The sandwich has Canadian bacon and white cheddar cheese and clocks in at 260 calories. It will be called the Egg White Delight.

The chain is also testing versions of the McWrap, which is a bigger version of its Snack Wrap that is already sold in Europe. The wraps have sliced cucumbers and are less than 350 calories.

The moves reflect the pressures McDonald's and other fast-food chains are facing amid growing concerns about obesity. McDonald's is also facing competition from chains such as Subway, which positions itself as a healthy alternative to traditional hamburger chains.

McDonald's notes that it has already made strides in improving the nutrition of its food, such as the automatic inclusion of apple slices in its Happy Meals.

And this summer, McDonald's rolled out a "Favorites Under 400" campaign that highlighted the menu items that had fewer than 400 calories. The company noted that about 80 percent of its menu items fit the bill.

Of course, not everyone orders just one item. And the chain has been blamed by critics for fueling obesity rates with its big soft drinks and other items.

A meal consisting of a Big Mac and medium fries, for example, has 920 calories. Add a 16-ounce Coca-Cola, and the count rises to 1,140 calories.

The decision to post calorie information follows the Supreme Court's decision this summer to uphold President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, which requires restaurant chains with more than 20 locations to post calorie information. The timing of carrying out that requirement has yet to be worked out.

McDonald's, which has 14,000 locations in the U.S., doesn't plan to advertise the posting of the calorie information. Fields said it's something the chain is doing as a "customer convenience."

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