30-year study: Fast food portions now 'significantly' bigger, saltier, higher in calories

30-year study: Fast food portions now 'significantly' bigger, saltier, higher in calories

Courtesy of Fast Casual

Fast food brands got a bit of a punch in the gut this week when an analysis of offerings at 10 of the top U.S. QSR brands in 1986, 1991 and 2016 revealed that menus have become less healthful over the last 30 years, according to Science Daily. The information published in the "Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics" struck right at the heart of the restaurant sector at a time when health and wellness have become "halo" qualities for all restaurant brands. 
The decades-long analysis found that despite some healthful menu additions, fast food has far more calories and sodium today and comes in larger portions than it did 30 years ago.
"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," said the lead investigator on the research, Sargent College Health Sciences Department's Megan A. McCrory said in the report. "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 (increased) over time and remain high." 
Today, about 37 percent of those over 20 eat QSR offerings each day, with 45 percent of people in the 20- to 39-year-old age group stopping for a fast food fix daily. The study looked at changes in fast food offerings over the period when it comes to the foods' total energy and energy density, as well as portion size, sodium, iron and calcium for entrees, sides and desserts at the top 10 U.S. QSRs by sales. 
The most significant findings were:

  • The total number of entree, dessert and side menu offerings grew by 226 percent or an average of 22.9 items per year.

  • All three categories' calories increased significantly, with desserts averaging 62 more calories per decade and entrees increasing by 30 calories per decade.

  • Most of the calorie increases came from larger portions, which included an increase of 13 grams per decade for entrees and 24 grams per decade for desserts. 

  • Sodium content also grew markedly across the categories. 

  • Calcium content increased significantly in entrees and desserts. 

  • Iron levels grew significantly in desserts.

"We need to find better ways to help people consume fewer calories and sodium at fast-food restaurants," McCrory said in the article. "The requirement that chain restaurants display calories on their menus is a start. We would like to see more changes, such as restaurants offering smaller portions at proportional prices.
"Given the popularity of fast food, our study highlights one of the changes in our food environment that is likely part of the reason for the increase in obesity and related chronic conditions over the past several decades, which are now among the main causes of death in the U.S." Read More