Next time you have a craving for fast food, don't kid yourself that choices
today are much healthier, a new study says.
The nutritional quality of menu items at fast-food restaurants has improved
only modestly over 14 years, according to researchers.
The researchers analysed menus from eight fast-food restaurant chains. The
menus from 1997-1998 to 2009-2010 came from McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's,
Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), Arby's, Jack in the Box and Dairy
The study authors used the US Department of Agriculture's Healthy Eating
Index to evaluate the nutritional quality of the menu items. Overall, the score
for all eight restaurants increased from 45 to 48 during the 14-year period.
During that time, menu scores did not change for fruit, whole fruit, total
vegetables, dark green and orange vegetables, legumes, total grains, whole
grains, and oils. The good news was that scores improved for meat, saturated
fat, and calories from solid fats and added sugars. On the other hand, scores
for milk/dairy and sodium got worse.
The overall nutritional quality score of 48 associated with these eight
restaurants fell below that of the average American diet (55), which the USDA
considers far from ideal, according to the study.
Room for improvement
"Given the role of fast food in Americans' diets, restaurants are in a unique
position to help improve the diet quality in the US by improving the nutritional
quality of menu offerings," lead investigator Mary Hearst, an associate
professor of public health at St Catherine University in St Paul, Minn, said in
a journal news release.
"Modest improvements in average nutritional quality of menu offerings across
eight fast-food restaurant chains were observed, which is consistent with both
legislative efforts (e.g., banning trans fat) and the industry's own statements
about creating healthier menu options. However, considering that fast food is
ubiquitous in the US diet, there is much room for improvement," she added.
More than one-quarter of American adults eat fast food two or more times a
week, the study authors noted in the news release.
According to the author of an accompanying journal commentary, Margo Wootan,
of the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, DC: "This tiny
increase [in the nutritional quality of fast food] is disappointing, and a bit
surprising, given the many pronouncements by companies that they have added
healthier menu options, switched to healthier cooking fats, are reducing sodium,
and are touting other changes in company press releases and advertising."
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers tips for eating