Study Finds Fast Food Has Become Unhealthier Over The Years
A new analysis of fast food offerings has found that fast food
has become increasingly unhealthy over the past 30 years. Fast food entrees,
sides, and desserts have increased significantly in calories and sodium, and
entrees and desserts in portion size.
For their analysis, researchers with the Department of Health
Sciences, Boston University compiled menu item data for 1986, 1991, and 2016
for fast food entrees, sides, and dessert from 10 popular fast food
restaurants. They looked at changes in calories, portion size, calorie density,
sodium, iron, and calcium.
Over the course of thirty years, the total number of entrees,
sides, and desserts offered increased by 226%, or 22.9 items per year. Calories
increased significantly – 62 calories per decade for desserts, and 30 calories
per decade for entrees. The increases were mainly due to larger portion sizes –
24 grams per decade for desserts and 13 grams per decade for entrees.
Sodium levels in entrees, sides, and desserts also increased significantly.
The greatest increase was seen in entrees, with an increase of 4.6% of the
daily recommended value per decade. Calcium also increased by 1.2% of the daily
recommended value per decade in entrees and by 3.9% of the daily recommended
value per decade in desserts. Iron increased significantly in desserts, where
it rose by 1.4% of the daily recommended value per decade.
In the US, approximately 37% of adults aged over 20 years consume
fast food on any given day, and that increases to 45% for adults aged 20 to 39.
The average meal with an entrée and side contains 767 calories, which is close
to 40% of a 2,000 calorie per day diet. When a caloric beverage is included,
this increases to 45-50%. The researchers believe the unhealthy trends and
popularity of fast food are contributing to obesity and related chronic
The article was published online ahead of print on February 27, 2019
in the Journal
of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.