Filled with empty calories and ultra-processed, fast food may bolster the risk of obesity and cancerous agents, i.e. carcinogenic agents. While fast-food chains have ostensibly been trying to offer more healthful options with time, a new study finds that the health impact of their menus has not improved — to the contrary, in fact.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that, between 2013 and 2016, 36.6 percent of adults in the United States ate fast food in any given period.
Moreover, according to a study conducted by University of Connecticut researchers in 2018, around 74 percent of parents purchase unhealthful foods for their children at fast-food restaurants, promoting unhealthy habits.
This, the investigators noted, is despite the fact that, from 2013 onward, some of the most popular fast-food chains committed to offering more healthful options in their children’s menus.
Now, a new study suggests that most fast-food restaurant menus have not, in fact, become more healthful overall, despite the addition of some arguably more wholesome choices, sparking a major concern among health authorities.
The researchers analyzed the variety, portion size, and nutrition of entrées, sides, and desserts offered by 10 of the most popular fast-food chains in the U.S. over a period of roughly 3 decades, based on the menus they made available at three points in time: in 1986, 1991, and 2016.
The team analyzed menus from Arby’s, Burger King, Carl’s Jr., Dairy Queen, Hardee’s, Jack in the Box, KFC, Long John Silver’s, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s.
In the study paper — which appears in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics — the investigating team explain their focus, noting that, “These restaurants were chosen because the nutritional information on the key nutritional variables of portion size, energy, and sodium was available for each of the 3 years being analyzed.”
The researchers looked at how entrées, sides, and desserts morphed on these fast-food restaurants’ menus over the 30-year span.
First, the researchers observed that the variety of foods that these restaurants offered increased at an exponential rate of 22.9 items, or 226 percent, per year.
However, as the variety increased, so did the caloric content of the food items on offer, as did portion size, which leads to more issues regarding quality food.
Thus, among entrées, sides, and desserts, calories saw a sharp increase. The largest such rise was in the dessert category, with an uplift of 62 kilocalories every 10 years. Next came entrées, which saw an increase of 30 kilocalories per decade.
However, McCrory stresses that fast food should not be the first port of call for people looking to raise their calcium and iron levels, since these nutrients are available in unprocessed or minimally processed foods, such as seeds, dairy products, and fish, which are safer and more healthy than their fast food counterparts.