Although beverages comprise one third of all menu items at large chain restaurants, no prior research has examined trends in their calorie and nutrient content.
Beverages (n=13,879) on the menus of 63 U.S. chain restaurants were the final analytic sample obtained from a restaurant nutrition database (MenuStat, 2012–2017). For each beverage type, cluster-bootstrapped mixed-effects regressions estimated changes in mean calories, sugar, and saturated fat for beverages available on menus in all years and for newly introduced beverages. Data were analyzed in 2018.
Traditional sugar-sweetened beverages, sweetened teas, and blended milk-based beverages (e.g., milkshakes) were significantly higher in calories from 2012 to 2017 for newly introduced beverages (p-value for trend <0.004). For all newly introduced sweetened beverages, sugar increased significantly (2015, +7.9 g; 2016, +8.2 g; p<0.004) whereas saturated fat declined (2016, −2.3 g; 2017, −1.6 g; p<0.004). For beverages on menus in all years, saturated fat declined significantly (p<0.001), whereas mean calories and sugar remained relatively constant. Significant declines were observed for sweetened coffees (−10 kcal, −0.5 g saturated fat, p<0.001), teas (−2.6 g sugar, p=0.001), and blended milk-based beverages (−28 kcal, −4.2 g sugar, −0.8 g saturated fat, p<0.001). From 2012 to 2017, the total number of beverage offerings increased by 155%, with 82% of this change driven by sweetened beverages.
Sweetened beverages available in large chain restaurants were consistently high in calories, sugar, and saturated fat and substantially increased in quantity and variety from 2012 to 2017.
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