Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
A new study by researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) has finally proven that just because a restaurant advertises themselves as a healthy alternative, poor choices can make the meals just as unhealthy as other fast food eateries.
This study, published May 6 in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that teenagers may end up eating nearly as many calories in a meal at Subway as a meal at McDonalds. The researchers behind this study say both restaurants contribute to the high amounts of overeating and obesity in America today.
“Every day, millions of people eat at McDonald´s and Subway, the two largest fast food chains in the world,” study leader Dr. Lenard Lesser, explained in a statement. “With childhood obesity at record levels, we need to know the health impact of kids´ choices at restaurants.”
Dr. Lesser and team recruited 97 teenagers aged 12 to 21 and asked them to buy meals at either McDonalds or Subway at a local shopping mall. These teenagers were asked to visit one of the two restaurants on different weekdays between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. and used their own money to pay for the food. Later the researchers gathered the receipts from these meals and measured the calories from each item on an individual ticket.
According to the research, teenagers who ate at Subway only ate 83 calories less than the teens who purchased food at McDonalds. The average caloric intake from either of these restaurants is shocking: Teens who dined at McDonalds ate an average of 1,038 calories while those who bought a sandwich from Subway consumed an average of 955 calories. The results are alarming, especially since The Institute of Medicine (IOM) suggests school lunches weigh in at no more than 850 calories.
After calculating the results, Dr. Lesser said there “was no statistically significant difference between the two restaurants,” noting that while the nutritional value of a Subway sandwich may be slightly higher, the rest of the meal (and the calories of the sandwich itself) can supersede this small benefit.
For instance, the researchers found that those McDonald´s sandwiches chosen by teenagers averaged 784 calories. Teens chose Subway sandwiches which averaged 572 calories.
Once the teens ordered chips, fries and sodas, the two meals ended up clocking in nearly the same amount of calories.
“The nutrient profile at Subway was slightly healthier, but the food still contained three times the amount of salt that the Institute of Medicine recommends,” said Dr. Lesser.
The amount of salt in these sandwiches is startling; the average Subway sandwich ordered by the teens contained 2,149 mg of sodium compared to the 1,829 mg in a McDonalds sandwich.
Dr. Lesser and team attribute this higher amount of sodium to the processed meats used in Subway´s sandwiches.
Though the results are not entirely surprising, the researchers explained that there were some weak points in the study. For instance, they only asked the teenagers to share with them the contents of one meal in the day. It´s unknown what else the kids are eating earlier or later in the day. Furthermore, the teenaged participants were from one suburb in Los Angeles and mostly of Asian decent or mixed ethnicity. Other kids might order differently, say the researchers.
It´s also important to remember that it´s possible to make both bad and good choices at nearly any restaurant. Healthier options exist at both establishments, but the students in this study simply chose some of the more caloric options. Though this could be seen as indicative of normal teenage behavior, it´s worth noting that both restaurants provide options for the health conscious to choose.