The Nutritional Quality of Fast Food Meals


It seems there is less and less time for home cooked meals so there is lots of eating on the run as work days compress lengthen and free time seems to disappear in our 24/7 world.   And we all know that the holiday season we’ve just passed through is notorious for adding a few pounds to our already expanding bodies.

Before you make your default eating stop a fast food restaurant, read this brief summary of Fast Food FACTS 2013, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Fast food’s nutritional quality and how we market them to children and teens have made some improvement over the past three years, but more needs to be done.

The report, issued by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, examined 18 of the top restaurant chains in the United States, and updates a similar report released in 2010. Nutritional data were collected in February 2013, and most marketing data examined practices through 2012.

Here is a summary of what the most recent report found:

• Fast food restaurants spent a total of $4.6 billion on all advertising in 2012. That sum was an 8 percent increase over 2009. McDonald’s alone spent 2.7 times as much toadvertise its products as all the fruit, vegetable, bottled water, and milk advertisers combined.

• Of all kids’ meal combinations, <1% meet recommended nutrition standards, and only 3% meet the industry’s own Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative and Kids LiveWell nutrition standards.

• TV ads are still pervasive. Children aged 6-11 years saw 3.2 TV ads daily, a 10% reduction since 2010, but preschoolers and teens continued to see respectively on average 2.8 to 4.8 fast food ads daily.

• Fast food restaurants increased their Spanish-language advertising by 16% to target Hispanic youth, a population at high risk for obesity and related diseases.

• Fast food marketing using social media and mobile devices increased exponentially in order to better target teens


The study authors recommended that improvements have been made, but fast food restaurants should meet nutrition standards and automatically provide healthy sides and beverages. The researchers also asked fast food restaurants to stop targeting children andteens with marketing that encourages frequent visits to these restaurants.

Food for thought when we take our kids and grandkids out for a “happy meal.”

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