Fast Food Stuck in the '90s?

May 16, 2013

A recent study found that fast feeders haven't changed the nutritional content of their offerings since the '90s - even after the plethora of information on nutrition and health

According to a study recently published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, fast food restaurants have made disappointing progress towards creating healthier menus.

While more salads, fruits and vegetables are being offered, many chains have also increased the number of unhealthy options – causing the overall nutritional quality and calories of their menus to remain relatively similar year after year, and patrons are often enticed into trying new items over salads and veggies.

The findings are worrying because more than 25 percent of Americans eat fast food two or more times a week, according to the study, and the items are filled with high amounts of sugar, fat and salt.

Researchers performed a nutritional analysis of the menus between 1997–1998 and 2009–2010. They also found that the number of lunch/dinner menu items offered by the restaurants in the study increased by 53 percent.  Results were measured using the US Department of Agriculture’s Healthy Eating Index, a 100-point scale that assesses nutritional quality. Examining specific food categories, the median energy content of desserts and condiments increased, and the energy content of sides decreased, while energy content of entrées and drinks remained level. 

Some restaurants – like Kentucky Fried Chicken and Jack in the Box – improved their menus by offering more protein or grain options and lowering the amount of sugar and saturated fats on their menus. But others, like Burger King, offered fewer protein options relative to their entire menu and the levels of sodium, saturated fats, and added sugars increased.

Margo G. Wootan, author of a commentary accompanying the study and director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C., commented that, “restaurants need to start by changing portion sizes and introducing better calorie labeling on the menus… When McDonald’s first opened, the hamburger, French fries and soft drink you got as an adult back then, is now considered a children’s meal.”

Fast food restaurants also need to add more appealing, healthier options to their menus, without also increasing the number of unhealthy options. SupermarketGuru suggests adding some sautéed, baked or grilled seasonal veggies. If you are going to visit a fast food restaurant make sure to look at the nutrition facts labels before you choose – knowing as much information as you can before making a decision is key.