Posted on Mar 14, 2019, 7 p.m.
A Boston University study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics shows that calorie counts have increased over the years, likely due to portion sizes ballooning up; data was used from The Fast Food Guide studies in 1986, 1991, and 2016.
Despite strengthened laws and regulations in recent decades in attempts to make restaurant offerings healthier, and some chains to adding healthier options to their menus a study has found that fast food menus in the USA are now more unhealthy than they were 30 years ago.
Items from menus of 10 of the most popular fast food restaurants within the USA in 1986, 1991, and 2016 were analyzed. Entrees, sides, and dessert were found to have significantly increased in total calories and sodium; since the 1980s portion size of entrees and dessert have grown, and the variety of entrees, sides, and dessert options has increased by 226%. On a positive note calcium and iron levels in desserts has increased.
The biggest calorie increase was seen in desserts at about 62 kcals per decade, and entrees at about 30 kcals per decade. A single meal consisting of an entree and side represents on average 767 kcals, which projects to 40% of a 2,000 calorie a day diet; adding a sugary beverage to that would make a person consume roughly 45-50% of the daily recommended calorie intake in only one meal.
Findings provide a spotlight for more attention to the ever growing obesity epidemic in the country, finding nearly 4 in 10 adults over the age of 20 consume fast food on any given day, this number jumps up to 45% when only looking at adults in the age group of 20-39 years of age.
“Some insight has been offered in the results as to how fast food is helping to drive the continued obesity problem and related chronic conditions. Despite the number of choice for food items, some of which are healthier than others, the portion sizes, calories, and sodium content have worsened over time and remain high,” explains Dr. Megan A. McCrory. “Given the popularity and convenience of fast food, changes in this food environment is likely part of the reason for the continued increased in obesity and related conditions over past decades, which are now among the main causes of death within the USA.”
Requiring chain restaurants to display calories on their menus is a start, but more changes are needed such as offering smaller portions at proportional sizes, as there is a clear need to find better ways to help people consume fewer calories and sodium at fast food restaurants.
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