Fast food is usually characterized as unhealthy, with high amounts of fat, salt and sugar. A new study shows that many of these problems have worsened and that fast foods are less healthy than 30 years ago.
A paper published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics looked at changes in menus at the 10 most popular fast-food restaurants from 1986 to 2016. These were McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Long John Silver’s, KFC, Jack in the Box, Hardee’s, Dairy Queen, Carl’s Jr., Burger King and Arby’s. The researchers also said the changes likely contributed to a rise in obesity over the period.
As an aside, the researched pointed to data from the period from 2007 to 2010 to show that “fast food accounted for 11% of daily caloric intake.”
The main reason that fast food is less healthy is that the numbers of some unhealthy menu items have soared. “From 1986 to 2016, the number of entrées, sides, and desserts for all restaurants combined increased by 226%.” In addition, the content of these has gotten worse in terms of nutrients that are bad for health. Portion sizes of entrées were 13 grams per decade. Desserts were 24 grams per decade. Sodium of items in all three menu categories increased sharply.
The research’s conclusion was that “These results demonstrate broadly detrimental changes in fast-food restaurant offerings over a 30-year span including increasing variety, portion size, energy, and sodium content.”
Megan A. McCrory, a Boston University researcher and co-author of the new study, added, “Given the popularity of fast food, our study highlights one of the changes in our food environment that is likely part of the reason for the increase in obesity and related chronic conditions over the past several decades, which are now among the main causes of death.”