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Fast Food Nutrition Improves Only Slightly

hamburgerFast food restaurant menus have only modestly increased their nutritious offerings over 14 years, with fruit and vegetable choices remaining limited and unchanged, finds a new study. The study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Researchers analyzed nutrients from eight fast-food restaurants using a University of Minnesota database, which was updated twice a year from 1997/1998 to 2009/2010. Restaurant chains included, McDonalds, Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). The meals’ ingredients and nutrient composition came from the restaurant.

Researchers then gauged nutritional quality from the Healthy Eating Index, a measure of diet quality developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The healthiest and best possible score is 100.

Across the eight restaurants, the score nudged up slightly over the 14-year period, moving from 45 in 1997/1998 to 48 in 2009/2010. KFC showed the greatest improvement with a nine-point increase and Jack in the Box, the second greatest with a seven-point increase. Over the study period, scores did not change for fruit, whole fruit, total vegetables, dark green and orange vegetables, legumes, total grains, whole grains, and oils. Scores improved for meat, saturated fat, and calories from solid fats and added sugars. Scores worsened for milk/dairy and sodium.

Six of the eight restaurants improved nutritional quality consistent with public health recommendations, but there is much room for improvement, the authors conclude.

Sources: Mary O. Hearst, PhD, MPH; Lisa Harnack, PhD, RD; Katherine W. Bauer, PhD, MPH; Alicia A. Earnest, MPH; Simone French, PhD; and J. Michael Oakes, PhD. “Nutritional Quality of Menu Offerings at Eight U.S. Fast-Food Chains: 14-Year Trends,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine. June 2013, Vol 44, No 6. Early release.

Healthy Eating Index.

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