Energy Content of U.S. Fast-Food Restaurant Offerings

14-Year Trends


      Within the past decade, there has been increasing attention to the role of fast food in the American diet, including a rise in legislative and media-based efforts that address the healthfulness of fast food. However, no studies have been undertaken to evaluate changes in the energy content of fast-food chain restaurant menu items during this period.


      To examine changes in the energy content of lunch/dinner menu offerings at eight of the leading fast-food chain restaurants in the U.S. between 1997–1998 and 2009–2010.


      Menu offerings and nutrient composition information were obtained from archival versions of the University of Minnesota Nutrition Coordinating Center Food and Nutrient Database. Nutrient composition information for items was updated biannually. Changes in median energy content of all lunch/dinner menu offerings and specific categories of menu items among all restaurants and for individual restaurants were examined. Data were collected between 1997 and 2010 and analysis was conducted in 2011.


      Spanning 1997–1998 and 2009–2010, the number of lunch/dinner menu items offered by the restaurants in the study increased by 53%. Across all menu items, the median energy content remained relatively stable over the study period. Examining specific food categories, the median energy content of desserts and condiments increased, the energy content of side items decreased, and energy content of entrées and drinks remained level.


      Although large increases in the number of menu items were observed, there have been few changes in the energy content of menu offerings at the leading fast-food chain restaurants examined in this study.
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      Linked Article

      • The Public Health Implications of Fast-Food Menu Labeling
        American Journal of Preventive MedicineVol. 43Issue 5
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          Excessive fast-food intake and the entire fast-food industry have been the source of strong criticism for pricing policies that enhance the purchases of large portion sizes; promotion of unhealthful foods high in sodium, saturated fats, and calories and depleted of many important minerals and vitamins; and seductive marketing that brings young children into fast-food–dependent diets at an early age.1–7 Indeed, cultural anthropologists studying the impact of McDonald's introduction into Asia note the profound effects of fast-food company practices and policies on the entire culture of eating.
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