Yum, look at those calories

Fast-food company Yum Brands says it's taking the guesswork out of counting calories for things like burritos and fried chicken.

The parent of KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Long John Silver's and A&W All-American Food said Wednesday it will add calorie information to menu boards in its company-owned restaurants.

“We believe this is the right leadership role … to be providing more information so consumers can make better-informed purchase decisions about the food they eat,” spokesman Jonathan Blum said.

Yum's decision was cheered by a consumer watchdog group, which said the voluntary initiative should help shrink waistlines.

“It's not going to defeat obesity instantly,” said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “But calorie labeling is one of many elements that needs to be adopted to help Americans lose weight.”

Yum said its calorie counts will be based on individual servings rather than on an entire pizza or bucket of chicken.

Yum said it will encourage its franchisees to provide the same information.

Louisville-based Yum has about 20,000 U.S. restaurants, and about 4,000 are company-owned.

The company said the information will be phased onto menu boards starting this year and completed by Jan. 1, 2011.

“We applaud this move and encourage other major chains to follow this bold example,” Jacobson said.

“I never thought I'd say this, but I salute Colonel Sanders.”

McDonald's spokesman Walt Riker said the chain will continue using current methods of informing customers.

McDonald's said it provides nutritional information on its Web site, on select product packaging, in brochures and on the back of trayliners.

“Customers are telling us that they are satisfied with the information we're providing,” Riker said.

At Wendy's restaurants in North America, posters on display near the front counters offer extensive nutritional information for menu items, including calorie counts, said spokesman Denny Lynch.

Asked if the company anticipated a shift in sales away from higher-calorie items, Blum said, “All food can be part of a balanced diet if eaten in moderation and balanced with exercise.”

Yum's restaurant brands offer lower-calorie menu options.

Yum said it will push for federal legislation to set uniform guidelines.

“We think every supermarket, restaurant, convenience store – anybody who sells prepared food – ought to follow one standard, uniform guideline,” Blum said.

Yum also announced it will quit advertising its products on television programs aimed at children under 12. Blum said the company does little advertising on such programs but said “we're taking a stand.”