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Some Queens chain restaurants post calories after appeal fails

As an air-conditioner repairman, Manny Borcena's work takes him all over the borough, forcing him to grab lunch on the go at fast food restaurants. And on Tuesday, it took him to McDonald's on Bell Boulevard in Bayside.

He ordered a chicken sandwich grilled because his doctor had warned him about high cholesterol and he wants to keep it healthy. But still Borcena admits that he's never quite sure what he's eating.

"I don't know about salt, I don't know about sugar, I don't know about calories," he said.

Now, Borcena and other fast food and chain restaurant patrons are one step closer to knowing exactly how many calories they are eating.

According to a ruling by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, chain restaurants with more than 15 locations nationwide will have to start posting calories on menus. The regulation will be in effect until the court hears a larger appeal in early June. Restaurants will be fined for not posting calories starting July 18. The city Department of Health estimates that one in 10 restaurants will be affected.

The ruling comes after weeks of legal battles between the city and the New York State Restaurant Association. Last week's decision was the second attempt by the restaurant association to delay enforcement of calorie posting. A U.S. District Court judge ruled against the association April 16.

Some chains, such as Starbucks, Quiznos and Chevy's, have already started to comply with the calorie posting.

"If you have that information, than people at least can make their own choices," said Jey Hwang, a registered dietician and director of nutrition services at Elmhust Hospital. Hwang thinks most people underestimate the amount of calories in their meals and believes the calorie postings will sway some diners to making healthier choices. Borcena, along with other McDonald's diners Tuesday, agreed that having the calorie information posted on menus might encourage healthier eating.

One group the calorie postings might have a difficult time influencing is adolescents. In a 2005 study published by the Journal of Adolescent Health, nearly three-quarters of teens surveyed did not choose a healthier meal option after they learned about the calorie and fat content in their fast food meal.

Two Cardozo High School students, who were leaving the White Castle in Bayside Tuesday, said the calorie postings would not influence what they ordered.

"I'm more here for the food, not the health benefits," said John, 15, of Flushing.

Reach reporter Katy Gagnon by e-mail at kgagnon@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300 Ext 174.

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