Ever since the first obesity-related lawsuit came out against the fast-food industry, all I’ve ever asked is that they label their packaging with the nutritional information, just like grocery stores have to do on a can of green beans. (See ‘Cheeseburger bill’ puts bite on lawsuits and The Commonsense Consumption Act.)

CHICAGO, Illinois (AP) — Make it a burger, fries and nutritional information to go.

Seeking to counter charges that its food is unhealthy and contributes to obesity, McDonald’s Corp. announced Tuesday that it will display nutrition facts on the packaging for most of its menu items next year.

Patrons of the world’s largest restaurant company will be able to learn the amount of calories and fat, among other information, in a McDonald’s product by looking at the wrapper instead of having to go to its Web site or ask for it at the counter.

The fast-food industry has been under pressure from consumer groups and the government to provide more nutritional information about its food. McDonald’s and others had previously made calorie count brochures available, resisting calls to do more.

In announcing the latest push to improve its image on health issues, McDonald’s said it demonstrates its commitment to promoting balanced, active lifestyles. CEO Jim Skinner also said the move responds to demand by customers, not consumer groups.

“We’ve communicated with our customers for more than 30 years now about our food” ingredients, he said in an interview at the McDonald’s flagship restaurant in downtown Chicago, Illinois. “This was a way for us to close that loop and provide them with an easy way to understand the nutrition information in the food that they’re eating.”

In my many discussions on this issue, someone always brings up the little mom-and-pop fast-food joint and complains how the costs of labelling would hurt them. It’s a valid point, and it’s why I’m glad McDonald’s chose to do this voluntarily rather than wait for some legislation that would force them to do so, but also perhaps economically doom many of the smaller businesses in the industry.

For a mega-corporation with deep pockets like McDonald’s, though, the move makes perfect sense. They talk a good talk about promoting health issues, but it’s really about the money and their fear of being hit with some Big-Tobacco-like judgement and damages. By labeling their product, they are just pre-emptively dodging that possibility. Can’t blame McDonald’s for your obesity when the Big Mac wrapper plainly says “This item will make you chubby” (or statistics to that effect).