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More Fast Food Choices; Same Calories

Drive Thru Neon SignThe new regulations requiring restaurant chains to post calories has led to a lot of attention on the healthfulness of fast foods in recent years. Yet over the last 14 years, fast food chains have increased the number of menu items over 50 percent while their menus’ overall calories have remained about the same, finds a new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Study researchers examined menu items of eight popular fast food chains from 1997 to 2010, updating the data every two years. Restaurants included McDonalds, Wendy’s and Taco Bell.

Across the entire menu, the median calories stayed relatively stable over the 14-year period studied. For specific food categories, the calories of entrées and beverages remained unchanged and calories of condiments and desserts increased. But calories from side items decreased by a median of 45 calories per item.

For the eight restaurants combined, the number of menu items increased by 53 percent over the 14-year period, rising to 1,036 items from 679. The number of entrees, for example, jumped from 211 choices in 1997 to 380 in 2010. And from French fries to apple slices, there were approximately 25 more side items to choose from in 2010 compared to 14 years earlier.

Including a small number of lower calorie foods may help some restaurant goers eat healthier, the authors note. But by maintaining or increasing the calories of the rest of the menu items, that may also lead to consumers eating more food and calories overall.

Source: Source: Katherine W. Bauer, Mary O. Hearst, Alicia A. Earnest, Simone A. French, J. Michael Oakes, Lisa J. Harnack. "Energy Content of U.S. Fast-Food Restaurant Offerings." American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2012; 43 (5): 490 DOI: 10.1016/j.

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