Food and Behaviour Research

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31 December 2014 - Science Daily - Little change seen in fast food portion size, product formulation between 1996 and 2013

Two new reports show that fast food portion sizes and product formulation, including sodium content and fat, stayed relatively the same between 1996 and 2013. The exception was a consistent decline in trans fat of fries between 2000 and 2009. Nevertheless, calorie and sodium contents remain high suggesting emphasis needs to be shifted from portion size to additional factors such as total calories, number of items ordered, and menu choices.

Two new reports from researchers at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (USDA HNRCA) at Tufts University show little change in fast food portion sizes and product formulation between 1996 and 2013. Led by Alice H. Lichtenstein, D.Sc., director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at the USDA HNRCA, the researchers analyzed the calorie, sodium, saturated fat and trans fat content of popular menu items served at three national fast-food chains between 1996 and 2013. They found that average calories, sodium, and saturated fat stayed relatively constant, albeit at high levels. The exception was a consistent decline in the trans fat of fries. The studies published in Preventing Chronic Disease, a journal of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"There is a perception that restaurants have significantly expanded their portion sizes over the years, but the fast food we assessed does not appear to be part of that trend," said Lichtenstein, who is also the Stanley N. Gershoff Professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. "Our analysis indicates relative consistency in the quantities of calories, saturated fat, and sodium. However, the variability among chains is considerable and the levels are high for most of the individual menu items assessed, particularly for items frequently sold together as a meal, pushing the limits of what we should be eating to maintain a healthy weight and sodium intake."

"For example, among the three chains, calories in a large cheeseburger meal, with fries and a regular cola beverage, ranged from 1144 to 1757 over the years and among restaurants, representing 57% to 88% out of the approximately 2000 calories most people should eat per day," Lichtenstein continued. "That does not leave much wiggle room for the rest of the day."