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Weight Loss

Fast Food Restaurants Now Offer Lower Calorie Menu Items

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that large chain restaurants, including fast food places, have introduced newer food and beverage options that on average contain 60 fewer calories than their traditional menu selections in 2012 and 2013, which were generally high in calories, fat, and sodium. The findings appear in the October 2014 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The team says this development could herald a trend in calorie reduction in anticipation of expected new federal government rules requiring large chain restaurants – including most fast-food places – to post calorie counts on their menus. The appearance of menu items containing 12 percent fewer calories could have a significant impact on the nation’s obesity epidemic.

A release from the university explains that studies have shown that on a typical day, 33 percent of young children, 41 percent of adolescents, and 36 percent of adults eat at fast-food restaurants with an average intake of 191 calories, 404 calories, and 315 calories respectively.

The release quotes lead author Sara N. Bleich, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Bloomberg School, as saying, “If the average number of calories consumed at each visit were reduced by approximately 60 calories — the average decline we observed in newly introduced menus in our study — the impact on obesity could be significant,”

Using data from MenuStat, the researchers looked at menu options in 66 of the 100 largest U.S. restaurant chains for 2012 and 2013. The newer, lower-calorie items fell into the categories of main course, beverages, and children’s menus.

However the research shows that these restaurants, for the most part, aren’t offering lower-calorie versions of signature dishes such as high-calorie burgers and pizzas. Instead, the new items that are lower in calories are mostly in different categories such as salads. Some restaurants did introducenew burgers, but the calorie counts tended to be more in line with the original items.

“You can’t prohibit people from eating fast food, but offering consumers lower calorie options at chain restaurants may help reduce caloric intake without asking the individual to change their behavior – a very difficult thing to do,” Bleich says. “Given that the federal menu-labeling provisions outlined in the 2010 Affordable Care Act are not yet in effect, this voluntary action by large chain restaurants to offer lower calorie menu options may indicate a trend toward increased transparency of nutritional information, which could have a significant impact on obesity and the public’s health.”

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