Calorie Underestimation When Buying High-Calorie Beverages in Fast-Food Contexts

In American Journal of Public Health, Rebecca Franckle and colleagues, including Christina Roberto, assess calorie estimation, particularly in high-calorie beverages, among adolescents and adults visiting fast-food restaurants. Previous research has shown that people eating at fast-food restaurants underestimate the caloric content of their purchases, but little is known about whether purchasing beverages affects calorie estimates. Because beverages are generally not the central focus of a meal and can be consumed quickly and with little effort, it is possible that people fail to account for the calories in high-calorie beverages more than in other foods. The authors asked 1,877 adults and 1,178 adolescents visiting 89 fast food restaurants in New England to estimate the number of calories purchased. They find that calorie underestimation was greater among those purchasing a high-calorie beverage than among those who did not. This difference remained significant for adults but not adolescents after adjusting for total calories purchased. The authors conclude that purchasing high-calorie beverages may uniquely contribute to calorie underestimation among adults.