Special Report

America's Least Healthy Fast-Food Chains

Michael B. Sauter, Sam Stebbins, Alexander Kent, Ashley C. Allen

7. Wendy’s
>Pct. meals with 600+ calories: 20.0%
>Pct. meals with 10+ g saturated fat: 34.7%
>Pct. meals with 1,000+ mg sodium: 45.3%
>Pct. meals unhealthy in at least one nutrition category: 74.7%

With nearly 5,800 locations and $8.8 billion in sales in 2013, Wendy’s is one of America’s largest and most popular fast-food chains. It is also one of the least healthy. A Wendy’s Baconator hamburger sandwich has nearly half the recommended daily value of calories for the average adult and 115% of the daily recommended amount of saturated fat. While most consumers are not likely to choose the Baconator for its nutritional value, the lighter side of Wendy’s menu has its share of hidden dangers. At 350 calories the Apple Pecan Chicken Salad may seem like a healthy choice. However, with a total of 17 grams of sugar, it has more sugar than 90% of all menu items from the largest fast-food restaurants.

6. Jack in the Box
>Pct. meals with 600+ calories: 32.5%
>Pct. meals with 10+ g saturated fat: 40.3%
>Pct. meals with 1,000+ mg sodium: 62.3%
>Pct. meals unhealthy in at least one nutrition category: 74.0%

San Diego-based Jack in the Box currently satisfies Americans’ fast-food cravings in 21 states. From the hamburger menu, Jack In The Box has eight sandwiches that contain an individual’s entire recommended daily value of saturated fat. Though the menu is mostly unhealthy, the restaurant goes out of its way to provide options for the health conscious consumer. By sticking to the “Better For You” menu segment, patrons can avoid the least healthy menu items and have a higher likelihood — although not a guarantee — of choosing something low in calories, saturated fat, and sugar. While the “Better For You” designation can be a helpful guide, it is not accurate in every case. For example, the Chicken Teriyaki Bowl has nearly 700 calories and more carbohydrates and sugar than 98% of all the fast-food meals in all of the restaurants considered.

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5. Arby’s
>Pct. meals with 600+ calories: 18.2%
>Pct. meals with 10+ g saturated fat: 22.7%
>Pct. meals with 1,000+ mg sodium: 75.8%
>Pct. meals unhealthy in at least one nutrition category: 75.8%

Arby’s, an Atlanta-based chain, is known for its roast beef sandwiches. While not always the case, some of those sandwiches are very unhealthy. All but one sandwich have exceptionally unhealthy proportions of at least two of the six nutrition categories, and half of the sandwiches have among the worst levels of four or five of the six categories. A third of Arby’s meal items contain trans fat, including all of the restaurant’s roast beef sandwiches. Arby’s sides are even more unhealthy, on average. An order of six mozzarella sticks has among the most unhealthy amounts of each of the six nutritional categories, including 2,530 milligrams of salt, just over a full day’s recommended daily allotment.