Fast food isn’t getting any healthier.
Portion size, calorie count and sodium in entrees, sides and desserts increased significantly at 10 of the top fast-food restaurants in the U.S., according to a new study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The findings show menus overall are less healthy than they were 30 years ago, despite the addition of healthier options like veggie burgers, salads and apple slices.
Researchers from Boston University analyzed offerings in 1986, 1991 and 2016 at Arby’s, Wendy’s
Carl’s Jr., Dairy Queen
Hardee’s, Jack in the Box
KFC, Long John Silver’s, McDonald’s and Wendy’s
Each was selected because the nutritional information on portion size, calories and sodium was available for each of the three years being analyzed. Researchers divided the menus into three categories: entrees like sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, salads or tacos and wraps; sides including breads, salads, soups, pasta and rice; and desserts such as brownies, cakes, frozen yogurt or milkshakes.
‘Our study offers some insights on how fast food may be helping to fuel the continuing problem of obesity and related chronic conditions in the U.S.’
None of the fast-food chains immediately responded to a request for comment.
Calories in all three categories soared between 1986 and 2016, with the largest increases in desserts (up 186 calories on average), followed by entrees (up 90 calories).
The calorie increases were due to the supersizing of entrees (up 13 grams every decade) and desserts (up 24 grams each decade). Entrees had the largest increase in sodium, with a 4.6% increase per decade.
The findings come as America is facing an obesity epidemic that some say is fueled by easy access to junk food. However, some research has suggested that fast food isn’t as much of a factor as people think in Americans’ weight struggles. The estimated annual health-care costs of obesity-related illness in the U.S. is $190.2 billion, or nearly 21% of medical spending.
Approximately 40% of U.S. adults aged 20 to 74 are obese, up from around 13% between 1960 and 1962, and 23% between 1988 and 1994, the study noted. What’s more, obesity is the second leading risk factor for disability and the fourth leading risk factor for mortality in the U.S., the researchers said.
Approximately 40% of U.S. adults aged 20 to 74 are obese, up from around 13% between 1960 and 1962.
Fast food plays a growing role in the average American diet, accounting for 4% of total caloric intake from 1977 to 1978, and comprising 11% of daily total caloric intake for Americans between 2007 and 2010, the study explained.
“Our study offers some insights on how fast food may be helping to fuel the continuing problem of obesity and related chronic conditions in the United States. Despite the vast number of choices offered at fast-food restaurants, some of which are healthier than others, the calories, portion sizes, and sodium content overall have worsened over time and remain high,” wrote lead investigator Megan McCrory.
Fast-food chains have implemented healthier options in recent years. In 2017, McDonald’s
switched out the Minute Maid apple juice in its Happy Meals for an organic, watered-down version by Honest Kids, with half the calories and less sugar. And a year earlier, it removed artificial preservatives from its Chicken McNuggets, and added 1% milk, fat-free chocolate milk, low-fat yogurt, sliced apples, clementines and more salads to its menus.
Similarly, Taco Bell
known for caloric bites like Doritos-shelled tacos and fried cinnamon-bun balls, cut out artificial ingredients in its recipes. And chains such as Wendy’s, Subway and Chick-fil-A have also added healthier beverage items to menus as soda sales continue to decline.