Energy content of U.S. fast-food restaurant offerings: 14-year trends

Katherine W. Bauer, Mary O. Hearst, Alicia A. Earnest, Simone A. French, J. Michael Oakes, Lisa J. Harnack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Background: Within the past decade, there has been increasing attention to the role of fast food in the American diet, including a rise in legislative and media-based efforts that address the healthfulness of fast food. However, no studies have been undertaken to evaluate changes in the energy content of fast-food chain restaurant menu items during this period. Purpose: To examine changes in the energy content of lunch/dinner menu offerings at eight of the leading fast-food chain restaurants in the U.S. between 1997-1998 and 2009-2010. Methods: Menu offerings and nutrient composition information were obtained from archival versions of the University of Minnesota Nutrition Coordinating Center Food and Nutrient Database. Nutrient composition information for items was updated biannually. Changes in median energy content of all lunch/dinner menu offerings and specific categories of menu items among all restaurants and for individual restaurants were examined. Data were collected between 1997 and 2010 and analysis was conducted in 2011. Results: Spanning 1997-1998 and 2009-2010, the number of lunch/dinner menu items offered by the restaurants in the study increased by 53%. 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, and energy content of entrées and drinks remained level. Conclusions: Although large increases in the number of menu items were observed, there have been few changes in the energy content of menu offerings at the leading fast-food chain restaurants examined in this study.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)490-497
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican journal of preventive medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Healthy Eating Research program ( RWJF-68383 ), which provided support for conduct of the study, including data management, analysis, and interpretation. KWB was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Minnesota (Grant No. T32DK083250 ) from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases .

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