Sure, McDonald's Has Salads, But Fast Food Still Averages High Calories

This article is more than 8 years old.

Here's a good news/bad news item.

Good news: Fast food restaurants are offering broader menus whose offerings include healthy options like salads and fruit.

Bad news: They're also offering more higher-calorie items. Upshot: The average fast-food calorie count has changed little since 1997.

From the press release:

In the study, published in the November issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers analyzed menu offerings and nutrient composition information from leading fast food restaurant chains in the U.S. using archival versions of the University of Minnesota Nutrition Coordinating Center's Food and Nutrient Database. McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Taco Bell, KFC, Arby's, Jack in the Box and Dairy Queen were chosen because they had been in the database since 1997, each has defined set of offerings on the menu and all standard menu items are included in the database.

One striking finding was a 53 percent increase in the total number of offerings — 679 to 1036 items — over 14 years across the restaurants. Specific fast-growing additions to the menus include the number of entree salads, which increased from 11 to 51, and sweetened teas, which went from zero to 35.

The study authors did not find any large changes in the median calorie content of entrees and drinks. A gradual increase in calories was found in condiments and desserts. Meanwhile, a decrease in the median calories of side items was observed — from 264 to 219 — which may be due to the addition of lower-calorie side salads and some restaurants limiting the portion sizes of side items like French fries.

Moral of the story: Fast food's well-established role in the obesity epidemic is far from over. But perhaps the mandated calorie counts that will soon be posted on chain restaurants' menus will help.

This program aired on November 14, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.