Nutritional Value of Fast Food Has Hardly Increased in 14 Years

Thursday, May 09, 2013
(photo: Lynne Sladky, AP)

From salads to wraps, fast food chains have claimed their menus are healthier these days for customers. But a new study says the likes of McDonald’s and Burger King have done little to improve the nutritional quality of their meals.


The study (pdf), funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, showed that the nutritional quality of fast food meals, measured against the health eating index developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, increased from a rating of 45 out of 100 in 1997-1998 to just 48 in 2009-2010. The average American’s diet stands at 55, which is nowhere near optimal, according to U.S. government health agencies.


“Modest improvements in average nutritional quality of menu offerings across eight fast-food restaurant chains were observed, which is consistent with both legislative efforts (e.g., banning trans fat) and the industry’s own statements about creating healthier menu options. However, considering that fast food is ubiquitous in the US diet, there is much room for improvement,” said Mary Hearst, associate professor of public health at St. Catherine University in St Paul, Minnesota, and the study’s lead investigator.


The eight chains examined were McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Arby’s, Jack in the Box and Dairy Queen.


The companies did make some improvements in the areas of meat, saturated fat, and calories from solid fats and added sugars. But they lost ground with milk/dairy and sodium, and stayed about the same when it comes to fruits and vegetables.


More than 25% of Americans dine on fast food at least twice a week.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Fast Food Chains Have ‘Barely Improved’ on Creating More Healthful Menus (by Sarah Boseley, The Guardian)

Nutritional Quality at Eight U.S. Fast-Food Chains: 14-Year Trends (by Mary O. Hearst, PhD, MPH, Lisa J. Harnack, PhD, RD, Katherine W. Bauer, PhD, MPH, Alicia A. Earnest, MPH, Simone A. French, PhD, and J. Michael Oakes, PhD; American Journal of Preventive Medicine) (pdf)

Chemicals in Fast Food Wrappers End Up in Human Blood (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)

Life Insurance Companies Own $2 Billion of Stock in Fast Food Chains (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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