From: Allison Winter, ENN
Published November 19, 2012 09:22 AM

Fast food restaurants add healthier options, but still do not address high-calorie foods

With pressure from media, legislation, and a health conscious society, fast food companies have been coming up with new recipes and ideas for healthier menu options. From salads to oatmeal, fruit cups and apple slices, you might think fast food has become healthier. However, according to a new study, calorie counts remain the same for existing menu items, and while there are new healthy options, little is being done to address the high-calorie food items.

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Led by Katherine W. Bauer, assistant professor in Temple University's Department of Public Health and Center for Obesity Research and Education, the study found that the average calorie content of foods offered by major fast food restaurants changed very little.

In the study, researchers analyzed menu offerings and nutrient composition information from eight leading fast food restaurant chains in the U.S.

Spanning 1997—1998 and 2009—2010, the number of lunch/dinner menu items offered by these restaurants increased by 53% from 679 to 1036 items. Across all menu items, the median energy content remained relatively stable over the study period.

Examining specific food categories, the median energy content of desserts and condiments increased, the energy content of side items decreased from 264 to 219 (this may be due to the addition of lower-calorie side salads and smaller portion sizes of French fries), and the energy content of entrées and drinks remained level.

Cities like Philadelphia and New York City already require menu labeling as mandated by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, and in the future, all consumers will be able to see calories for all food items posted at restaurants and food vendors with more than 20 locations. As these calorie count menus start to pop up nationally, more pressure will be placed on these companies to adjust their products.

On one hand, we have the right to order whatever we want and having options gives people the choice to make their own decisions on how many calories they are consuming. And some people like their fast food burgers and nuggets the way they are. However, what can be deceiving is ordering a salad, which you would assume, is a healthy entrée option, but if it includes fried chicken and ranch dressing, there may be more calories than you think!

Read more at Temple University.

Fast food image via Shutterstock.

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