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Joining the War Against Obesity? continued...

History suggests that he's right. There's the McLean burger, whose name proved to be closely more related to levels of profits and customer popularity than its fats and calories. And Taco Bell's Border Lights, whose sales also quickly fell south-of-the-border. Even Applebee's, now basking in the glow of its Weight Watchers-partnership media frenzy, had an earlier attempt at low-fat fare in the 1990s that bombed.

"Yes, there were earlier efforts to have a designated portion of our menu as lower fat or healthier fare that unfortunately didn't take off," Applebee's spokesman Frank Ybarra tells WebMD. "But we think part of that may have been issues with flavor and taste. Guests now expect that items considered healthy need to also taste good. That used to not be the perception of those items."

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."

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