Quantcast

Fast Food Has Gotten Less Healthy in Last 30 Years

Food

Firdaus Jurahel / EyeEm / Getty Images

Despite growing awareness of the health risks posed by fast food, and an increased push to add healthier menu items, fast food has actually gotten worse for you in the past 30 years.

That's the finding of a major study conducted by researchers at Boston and Tufts Universities and published Wednesday in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which Boston University says is the most in-depth and longest-period look at how the caloric and nutritional content of fast food has changed over the years.


"Our study offers some insights on how fast food may be helping to fuel the continuing problem of obesity and related chronic conditions in the United States. Despite the vast number of choices offered at fast-food restaurants, some of which are healthier than others, the calories, portion sizes and sodium content overall have worsened (increased) over time and remain high," lead author Dr. Megan A. McCrory of the Department of Health Sciences at Sargent College, Boston University said in an Elsevier press release republished by ScienceDaily.

The researchers looked at meals from the 10 top fast food restaurants, according to sales data, including McDonald's, Dairy Queen and KFC. They took snapshots of menu offerings in 1986, 1991 and 2016 to assess how the portion size and calorie, sodium, calcium and iron content of desserts, entrees and sides had changed over time.

Here are the key findings:

  • The number of menu items increased by 226 percent over the study period.
  • The portion sizes increased by 13 grams per decade for entrees and 24 grams per decade for desserts.
  • Calories increased by 30 calories per decade for entrees and 62 calories per decade for desserts.
  • The percentage of recommended sodium based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet increased by 4.6 percent for entrees, 3.9 percent for sides and 1.2 percent for desserts per decade on average.
  • Four of the 10 restaurants had data on calcium and iron content. For these restaurants, the percent of daily recommended calcium content of desserts increased by 3.9 percent and the percent of daily recommended iron content increased by 1.4 percent on average per decade

While McCrory said this last change was positive, fast food was still not a good source of these nutrients.

"Although these increases seem desirable, people should not be consuming fast food to get more calcium and iron in their diet because of the high calories and sodium that come along with it," McCrory said in the Boston University press release.

The study acknowledged that fast food is an important part of U.S. eating habits, constituting 11 percent of U.S. daily calorie consumption from 2007 to 2010. Because of this, McCrory said she hoped the study could lead to more research on how to encourage healthier fast food options.

"We need to find better ways to help people consume fewer calories and sodium at fast-food restaurants," she said in the Elsevier release. "The requirement that chain restaurants display calories on their menus is a start. We would like to see more changes, such as restaurants offering smaller portions at ... proportional prices," she concluded.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Asian elephants frolic in Kaudulla Wewa at Kaudulla National Park in central Sri Lanka. David Stanley / CC BY 2.0

When it comes to saving some of the planet's largest animals, a group of researchers says that old methods of conservation just won't cut it anymore.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

A low-fat diet that prioritizes eating healthier foods like fruits and vegetables each day could lower the risk a woman's risk of dying from breast cancer, according to a multi-decade study published this month.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
smcgee / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Several New York City Starbucks exposed customers to a potentially deadly pesticide, two lawsuits filed Tuesday allege.

Read More Show Less
Drinks with plastic straws on sale at London's Borough Market. Susie Adams / Getty Images

The UK government has set a date for a ban on the sale of single use plastics, The Guardian reported Wednesday. From April 2020, the sale of plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton buds with plastic stems will be prohibited in England.

Read More Show Less
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) speaks during the North American Building Trades Unions Conference at the Washington Hilton April 10, 2019 in Washington, DC. Zach Gibson / Getty Images

Colorado senator and 2020 hopeful Michael Bennet introduced his plan to combat climate change Monday, in the first major policy rollout of his campaign. Bennet's plan calls for the establishment of a "Climate Bank," using $1 trillion in federal spending to "catalyze" $10 trillion in private spending for the U.S. to transition entirely to net-zero emissions by 2050.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Foto-Rabe / Pixabay

When Trump's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its replacement for the Obama-era Clean Power Plan in August 2018, its own estimates said the reduced regulations could lead to 1,400 early deaths a year from air pollution by 2030.

Now, the EPA wants to change the way it calculates the risks posed by particulate matter pollution, using a model that would lower the death toll from the new plan, The New York Times reported Monday. Five current or former EPA officials familiar with the plan told The Times that the new method would assume there is no significant health gain by lowering air pollution levels below the legal limit. However, many public health experts say that there is no safe level of particulate matter exposure, which has long been linked to heart and lung disease.

Read More Show Less
A crate carrying one of the 33 lions rescued from circuses in Peru and Columbia is lifted onto the back of a lorry before being transported to a private reserve on April 30, 2016 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

By Andrea Germanos

Animal welfare advocates are praising soon-to-be introduced legislation in the U.S. that would ban the use of wild animals in traveling circuses.

Read More Show Less
A tornado Monday in Union City, Oklahoma. TicToc by Bloomberg / YouTube screenshot

Extreme weather spawned 18 tornadoes across five states Monday, USA Today reported. Tornadoes were reported in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Arizona, but were not as dangerous as forecasters had initially feared, the Associated Press reported.

Read More Show Less