Research Original Research| Volume 119, ISSUE 6, P923-933, June 2019

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Fast-Food Offerings in the United States in 1986, 1991, and 2016 Show Large Increases in Food Variety, Portion Size, Dietary Energy, and Selected Micronutrients

Published:February 27, 2019DOI:



      US national survey data shows fast food accounted for 11% of daily caloric intake in 2007-2010.


      To provide a detailed assessment of changes over time in fast-food menu offerings over 30 years, including food variety (number of items as a proxy), portion size, energy, energy density, and selected micronutrients (sodium, calcium, and iron as percent daily value [%DV]), and to compare changes over time across menu categories (entrées, sides, and desserts).


      Fast-food entrées, sides, and dessert menu item data for 1986, 1991, and 2016 were compiled from primary and secondary sources for 10 popular fast-food restaurants.

      Statistical Analysis

      Descriptive statistics were calculated. Linear mixed-effects analysis of variance was performed to examine changes over time by menu category.


      From 1986 to 2016, the number of entrées, sides, and desserts for all restaurants combined increased by 226%. Portion sizes of entrées (13 g/decade) and desserts (24 g/decade), but not sides, increased significantly, and the energy (kilocalories) and sodium of items in all three menu categories increased significantly. Desserts showed the largest increase in energy (62 kcal/decade), and entrées had the largest increase in sodium (4.6% DV/decade). Calcium increased significantly in entrées (1.2%DV/decade) and to a greater extent in desserts (3.9% DV/decade), but not sides, and iron increased significantly only in desserts (1.4% DV/decade).


      These results demonstrate broadly detrimental changes in fast-food restaurant offerings over a 30-year span including increasing variety, portion size, energy, and sodium content. Research is needed to identify effective strategies that may help consumers reduce energy intake from fast-food restaurants as part of measures to improve dietary-related health issues in the United States.


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      M. A. McCrory is a research associate professor of nutrition, Department of Health Sciences, Boston University, Boston, MA.


      A. G. Harbaugh is a research associate professor of quantitative methods, Mathematics & Statistics Department, Boston University, Boston, MA.


      S. Appeadu is a medical student, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Cincinnati, OH; at the time of the study, she was a graduate student, Division of Graduate Medical Sciences, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA.


      S. B. Roberts is a senior scientist and director, Energy Metabolism Lab, Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston, MA.