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'Value Meals' Bad Deal for Health: Report
Excerpt By Todd Zwillich, Reuter's Health

WASHINGTON (Reuters Health) - "Value meals," "Combos" and "Super-Sized" at America's fast-food counters may seem like a good deal for your wallet, but they're no bargain when it comes to health, according to a report released by a coalition of nutrition groups Tuesday.

The report suggests that "bundling"--the common practice of pairing side dishes and drinks with fast-food sandwiches--greatly boosts the calories and fat in a meal while actually costing consumers more money. The same holds true for deals at movie theaters, convenience stores and fast-food restaurants urging customers to spend more money to get more food.

"Super-sizing costs you money to buy extra calories you don't need," said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Those extra calories may help Americans feel like they are getting a bargain, but are also contributing to the country's 61% rate of adult obesity, she said.

Researchers traveled the country looking at marketing practices in restaurants, theaters and stores and then examined the nutritional effects of the deals.

A "Minibon" cinnamon bun at popular Cinnabon bakeries costs an average of $2.01 and carries 300 calories and 5 grams of saturated fat. The outlet encourages customers to purchase "Classic Cinnabon" buns for 48 cents more. The 24% increase in price brings 123% more calories and three times the amount of saturated fat, according to the report.

Similarly, "Super-Gulp" soft drinks at 7-Eleven stores cost an extra 37 cents but more than triple the number of calories to an average of 600.

"Value marketing is manipulation," said Melanie Polk, director of nutrition education at the American Institute for Cancer Research, one of the groups that issued the report.

Researchers have long worried that increasing portion sizes and overall caloric intake are major factors in America's growing obesity problem. Obesity is considered a major risk factor for illnesses including diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer.

A recent US Department of Agriculture study showed that Americans consume 171 more calories on average today than they did a decade ago. The trend continues despite falling levels of physical activity and exercise.

"We Americans are quite literally eating ourselves into an early grave," said Carol Tucker Foreman, director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America.

The study also found that people who want less food than a "super-sized" meal provides may have to pay more to get it. Buying a quarter-pounder with cheese with a small order of French fries and a small Coke costs $4.40, 8 cents more than a bundled large Extra Value Meal with 35% more calories, the report states.

"It actually costs more to buy a smaller, lower-calorie meal," Wootan said.

Researchers called on restaurants to display calorie and fat information on food counter menus beside pictures or descriptions of food package deals. They also urged Americans to always ask for small food sizes and resist the temptation to buy larger portions.

Polk called on consumers to share their super-sized foods as a way to stretch calories further. A "Big One" Snickers bar delivers 510 calories for $1.02 at 7-Eleven, compared to 280 calories for a 69-cent regular bar.

If you choose to buy a "Big One," she suggested, "cut it in thirds and make two friends happy."


Reference Source 89

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