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Energy Contents of Frequently Ordered Restaurant Meals and Comparison with Human Energy Requirements and US Department of Agriculture Database Information: A Multisite Randomized Study

Published:January 20, 2016DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2015.11.009

      Abstract

      Background

      Excess energy intake from meals consumed away from home is implicated as a major contributor to obesity, and ∼50% of US restaurants are individual or small-chain (non–chain) establishments that do not provide nutrition information.

      Objective

      To measure the energy content of frequently ordered meals in non–chain restaurants in three US locations, and compare with the energy content of meals from large-chain restaurants, energy requirements, and food database information.

      Design

      A multisite random-sampling protocol was used to measure the energy contents of the most frequently ordered meals from the most popular cuisines in non–chain restaurants, together with equivalent meals from large-chain restaurants.

      Setting

      Meals were obtained from restaurants in San Francisco, CA; Boston, MA; and Little Rock, AR, between 2011 and 2014.

      Main outcome measures

      Meal energy content determined by bomb calorimetry.

      Statistical analysis performed

      Regional and cuisine differences were assessed using a mixed model with restaurant nested within region×cuisine as the random factor. Paired t tests were used to evaluate differences between non–chain and chain meals, human energy requirements, and food database values.

      Results

      Meals from non–chain restaurants contained 1,205±465 kcal/meal, amounts that were not significantly different from equivalent meals from large-chain restaurants (+5.1%; P=0.41). There was a significant effect of cuisine on non–chain meal energy, and three of the four most popular cuisines (American, Italian, and Chinese) had the highest mean energy (1,495 kcal/meal). Ninety-two percent of meals exceeded typical energy requirements for a single eating occasion.

      Conclusions

      Non–chain restaurants lacking nutrition information serve amounts of energy that are typically far in excess of human energy requirements for single eating occasions, and are equivalent to amounts served by the large-chain restaurants that have previously been criticized for providing excess energy. Restaurants in general, rather than specific categories of restaurant, expose patrons to excessive portions that induce overeating through established biological mechanisms.

      Keywords

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      Biography

      L. E. Urban is a scientist, Gelesis Inc, Boston, MA; at the time of the study, she was a postdoctoral scholar, Energy Metabolism Laboratory, Jean Mayer US Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Tufts University, Boston, MA.

      Biography

      J. L. Weber is an associate professor of pediatrics, Department of Pediatrics, College of Medicine, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock.

      Biography

      R. L. Schichtl is a nutrition instructor, Department of Pediatrics, College of Medicine, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock.

      Biography

      M. B. Heyman is a professor of clinical pediatrics, Department of Pediatrics, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco.

      Biography

      S. Verstraete is a fellow, Department of Pediatrics, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco.

      Biography

      N. S. Lowery is a student, Physician Assistant program, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA; at the time of the study, she was a research assistant, Energy Metabolism Laboratory, Jean Mayer US Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Tufts University, Boston, MA.

      Biography

      S. K. Das is a scientist I, Energy Metabolism Laboratory, Jean Mayer US Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Tufts University, Boston MA.

      Biography

      S. B. Roberts is a senior scientist and director, Energy Metabolism Laboratory, Jean Mayer US Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Tufts University, Boston MA.

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      G. Rogers is a senior statistician, Nutritional Epidemiology Program, Jean Mayer US Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Tufts University, Boston MA.

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      C. Economos is an associate professor, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, Boston MA.

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      W. A. Masters is a professor, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, Boston MA.

      Biography

      M. M. Schleicher is coordinator, Office of Research Subject Protection, Broad Institute, Cambridge, MA; at the time of the study, she was a senior research coordinator, Energy Metabolism Laboratory, Jean Mayer US Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Tufts University, Boston, MA.