Calorie Changes in Chain Restaurant Menu Items

Implications for Obesity and Evaluations of Menu Labeling
Published:October 07, 2014DOI:


      Supply-side reductions to the calories in chain restaurants are a possible benefit of upcoming menu labeling requirements.


      To describe trends in calories available in large U.S. restaurants.


      Data were obtained from the MenuStat project, a census of menu items in 66 of the 100 largest U.S. restaurant chains, for 2012 and 2013 (N=19,417 items). Generalized linear models were used to calculate (1) the mean change in calories from 2012 to 2013, among items on the menu in both years; and (2) the difference in mean calories, comparing newly introduced items to those on the menu in 2012 only (overall and between core versus non-core items). Data were analyzed in 2014.


      Mean calories among items on menus in both 2012 and 2013 did not change. Large restaurant chains in the U.S. have recently had overall declines in calories in newly introduced menu items (–56 calories, 12% decline). These declines were concentrated mainly in new main course items (–67 calories, 10% decline). New beverage (–26 calories, 8% decline) and children’s (–46 calories, 20% decline) items also had fewer mean calories. Among chain restaurants with a specific focus (e.g., burgers), average calories in new menu items not core to the business declined more than calories in core menu items.


      Large chain restaurants significantly reduced the number of calories in newly introduced menu items. Supply-side changes to the calories in chain restaurants may have a significant impact on obesity prevention.
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