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Waistline-Friendly Fast Food?

More fast food chains and restaurants are jumping on the health food bandwagon. But are these lower-fat choices a whole-hearted effort to fight obesity?

Joining the War Against Obesity? continued...

Whether diners last decade really expected healthy restaurant food to be bad tasting is up for debate. But it's clear that food suppliers are taking more blame than ever for their customers' expanding waistlines -- and paying for it at the corporate bottom line.

"Clearly, food companies feel the fingers pointing at them," says Alice Ammerman, RD, DrPH, nutritionist at the University of North Carolina. "So it makes good marketing sense for them to do something more along the lines of offering solutions, rather than providing more additions to contribute to the obesity epidemic."

After battling some health-conscious finger pointers, McDonald's recently made another attempt at healthier fare -- a new line of "meal-sized" salads that the company proudly says ended many consecutive months of slumping sales. Of course, less publicized is that the new Crispy Chicken Bacon Ranch Salad weighs in at 660 calories and 51 grams of fat when you add a packet of its accompanying dressing -- compared to the 600 calories and 33 fat grams of a Big Mac.

"And it seems as though they give you two packets of dressing when you order it," says Ammerman. "But it's your choice if you want to add the dressing."

It's Your Choice

Ah yes, "choice" -- the real reason why Applebee's has teamed up with Weight Watchers, says Ybarra. "We want to provide our guests with the widest variety of meals options we can. If they're looking for healthier alternatives, the Weight Watchers options will offer that. If they don't, we have other options, as well. It's a simple matter of providing our guests with a choice."

In other words, if you choose to get fat on all-you-can-eat rib fests, perhaps you shouldn't blame Applebee's with a lawsuit later on. You could have selected any of the dozen or so Weight Watchers choices soon to be offered, or other waistline-friendly offerings currently on the menu.

"I'm willing to give everybody the benefit of the doubt and say that buried in these corporations are individuals who really care about the health of the people who buy their products. But I can't believe that the lawsuits we're seeing don't have something to do with the timing of these changes," says Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, chair of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York University and author of Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health.

"Recently, there have been two very serious investment analyses that say these companies had better watch out," she tells WebMD. "Even if these lawsuits never come to fruition and have no grounds in which to win, they are still putting the companies in a position of vulnerability, particularly because of the documents they are going to have to present."

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