WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Laws requiring U.S. restaurant chains to list calorie counts have not stopped them from offering unhealthy meals that pack in calories, fat and salt, a group that encourages healthy food said on Tuesday.
A pancake breakfast providing 1,380 calories, a single-serve pizza that packs two days' worth of sodium and a pasta dish swimming in four day's worth of fat top a list published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
The group, which "outs" the calorie, fat and sodium counts of America's favorite foods every year, said it looked for evidence that restaurants are trimming back their offerings in the face of new laws and political pressure.
They found little.
"One might think that chains like Outback Steakhouse and The Cheesecake Factory might want to lighten up their meals now that calories will be required on their menus, courtesy of the health care reform law signed in March," Michael Jacobson, executive director of the non-profit CSPI said.
"But these chains don't promote moderation. They practice caloric extremism, and they're helping make modern-day Americans become the most obese people ever to walk the Earth," he said in a statement.
More than two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese.
President Barack Obama has appointed his wife Michelle Obama to head a panel fighting childhood obesity. Local governments from New York to California have limited trans-fats and required restaurant chains to list calories on the menu.
The U.S. Institute of Medicine says the average American needs about 2,000 calories a day, 1,500 mg of salt and no more than 20 grams of saturated fat. Most get far more than this.
The food and restaurant industry has been lobbying for self-regulation, arguing that Americans need to control their own eating habits. But the Institute of Medicine says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should start regulating the food industry to help remove salt from food.
New York City, which has banned smoking and artificial trans-fats in restaurants, has pledged to coordinate a nationwide effort to reduce salt in restaurant and packaged foods by 25 percent over five years.
U.S. healthcare reform legislation passed in March requires large chain restaurants to give calorie counts on menus.
Some of the meals listed by the CSPI:
* Bob Evans' Cinnamon Cream Stacked & Stuffed Hotcakes has 1,380 calories and 34 grams of saturated fat or "about what you'd get in two country-fried steaks and four eggs", the CSPI said.
* California Pizza Kitchen's Tostada Pizza with Grilled Steak has with 1,680 calories, 32 grams of saturated fat, and 3,300 mg of sodium.
* Five Guys' Bacon Cheeseburger has 920 calories and 30 grams of saturated fat. Its large French fries has 1,460 calories "about triple the calories of a large order of fries at McDonald's," the CSPI said.
* P.F. Chang's Double Pan-Fried Noodles Combo has 1,820 calories and 7,690 milligrams of salt.
* The Cheesecake Factory's Pasta Carbonara with Chicken has 2,500 calories and 85 grams of saturated fat.
Editing by David Storey