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Tags: fast | food | calorie | count

Fast Food Menu Calories Still High

Friday, 16 November 2012 11:17 AM EST

Fast food joints are increasingly offering healthier alternatives to burgers and fries, with salads, grilled chicken sandwiches, fruit, and even oatmeal now on menus. But Temple University researchers who took a closer look at calorie counts of fast-food offerings found they have changed little, despite the increasing variety of choices.
The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that the average calorie content of foods offered by eight major U.S. fast food restaurants remained virtually the same between 1997 and 2010. The researchers noted a doubling in the total number of offerings — from 679 to 1036 items — including many new entree salads (which increased from 11 to 51), and sweetened teas, which went from zero to 35.
Researchers based their analysis of menu offerings and nutrient composition information from leading fast food restaurant chains — McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Taco Bell, KFC, Arby's, Jack in the Box, and Dairy Queen — logged in the University of Minnesota Nutrition Coordinating Center's Food and Nutrient Database.
"We're not saying you shouldn't ever eat fast food, but you need to think about things like portion size, preparation method, condiments and the total caloric content of your meal," said lead researcher Katherine W. Bauer, assistant professor in Temple University's Department of Public Health and Center for Obesity Research and Education.
"You might order a lower-calorie entree, but then you get a drink, fries and a dessert," she said. "Calories can add up very quickly. A salad can be low calorie, but not when it includes fried chicken and ranch dressing. Sweetened teas are just empty calories."
Studies have tied frequent fast food dining to excess weight and weight gain among adults, Bauer and her colleagues noted. A recent survey found 80 percent of Americans purchased fast food in the past month and 28 percent consumed it two or more times a week. Nearly 40 percent of teens consume fast food on a daily basis.
Among the Temple study’s specific findings:
• There were no substantial changes in the median calorie content of entrees and drinks over the 14-year study period.
• A gradual increase in calories was found in condiments and desserts.
• A decrease in the median calories of side items was observed — from 264 to 219 — including many lower-calorie side salads and smaller portion sizes of side items like French fries.
• Some very high calorie items have been added to menus at the same time as the lower-calorie items; in 2009 and 2010, lunch and dinner entrees had 453 calories on average per item while side items had 263 calories on average.
Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — fast food chains will have to post calories for all food items. Some, including McDonald’s, have already begun doing so.
"Using this study as a start, we'll be able to see if being required to post the calorie content of menu items — the primary aim of which is to inform consumers — prompts any changes by the fast food industry," said Bauer. "When the effort is rolled out nation-wide fast food restaurants may modify the calorie content of the foods they sell so consumers can see a smaller number on the menu board.”

© HealthDay

Fast food joints are offering more healthy choices, but calorie counts remain high overall, new research shows.
Friday, 16 November 2012 11:17 AM
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