Fast Food Menus Are Not Getting Any Lighter
November 14, 2012

Calories Still Abound On Fast Food Menus Following Public Health Actions

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

The debate on fast food has come some way since the beginning of its inception. These fast food stops may be known for their greasy goodness like French fries and hamburgers, but they have worked to provide healthier options for their customers. Gone are the fatty, fried dishes; instead, there is lighter fare, including salads and fresh fruits, and calorie counts on menus. However, researchers believe that these minor changes are not effective enough and fast food items still have tons of calories.

With this research project, the team of investigators had the opportunity to study the food items and nutritional content from archival menus of a variety of fast food restaurants in the U.S. The menus had been saved in the University of Minnesota´s Nutritional Coordinator Center and included information from Arby´s, Burger King, McDonald´s, Taco Bell, Jack in the Box, Dairy Queen and Wendy´s. In particular, the study stated that the average amount of calories in foods from eight of the top ranking fast food U.S. restaurants did not change much from 1997 to 2010. Between 2009 and 2010, lunch and dinner items had an average of 453 calories while side items had an average of 263 calories.

“You might order a lower-calorie entree, but then you get a drink, fries and a dessert,” explained Katherine Bauer, an assistant professor in Temple University´s Department of Public Health and Center for Obesity Research and Education, in a prepared statement. “Calories can add up very quickly. A salad can be low calorie, but not when it includes fried chicken and ranch dressing. Sweetened teas are just empty calories.”

The study showed that there was a 53 percent boost in the number of items (starting from 679 and expanding to 1063 items) over a 14-year period. These items included entrée salads and sweetened teas. As well, there was a slow rise in the amount of calories found in condiments and desserts.

On the other hand, there was a reduction in the average of calories of side items, such as side salads and French Fries.

One concern of the team of investigators was the frequency of consuming fast food. Past studies have shown that there is a correlation between fast food consumption and weight gain. According to the researchers, almost 40 percent of teens eat fast food on any given day and 28 percent of adults eat fast food at least two times a week.

“We´re not saying you shouldn´t ever eat fast food, but you need to think about things like portion size, preparation method, condiments and the total caloric content of your meal,” continued Bauer in the statement.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 is thought to be able to help educate consumers by posting all calorie information on menus.

“Using this study as a start, we´ll be able to see if being required to post the calorie content of menu items – the primary aim of which is to inform consumers – prompts any changes by the fast food industry,” commented Bauer in the statement. “While some localities such as Philadelphia and New York City already require menu labeling, when the effort is rolled out nation-wide fast food restaurants may modify the calorie content of the foods they sell so consumers can see a smaller number on the menu board."

Besides the Patient and Protection Affordable Care Act of 2010, scientists encourage individuals to take the interview to learn about healthy food choices on their own.

“Without massive changes by the fast food industry in the caloric content of food, the key is for consumers to try to educate themselves about calories and be aware that just because a restaurant promotes healthful options, does not mean that overall the foods sold are lower calorie,” remarked Bauer in the statement. “Over time, with increased exposure to calorie information on menus, people may start to understand how many calories they should consume each day.”

The findings of the study were recently published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.