Food and Behaviour Research

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Measured energy content of frequently purchased restaurant meals: multi-country cross sectional study

Roberts SB, Das SK, Suen VMM, Pihlajam√§ki J, Kuriyan R, Steiner-Asiedu M, Taetzsch A, Anderson AK, Silver RE, Barger K, Krauss A, Karhunen L, Zhang X, Hambly C, Schwab U, Triffoni-Melo AT1, Taylor SF, Economos C, Kurpad AV, Speakman JR (2018) BMJ.  2018 Dec 12;363: k4864. doi: 10.1136/bmj.k4864. 

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To measure the energy content of frequently ordered meals from full service and fast food restaurants in five countries and compare values with US data.


Cross sectional survey.


223 meals from 111 randomly selected full service and fast food restaurants serving popular cuisines in Brazil, China, Finland, Ghana, and India were the primary sampling unit; 10 meals from five worksite canteens were also studied in Finland. The observational unit was frequently ordered meals in selected restaurants.


Meal energy contentmeasured by bomb calorimetry.


Compared with the US, weighted mean energy of restaurant meals was lower only in China (719 (95% confidence interval 646 to 799) kcal versus 1088 (1002 to 1181) kcal; P<0.001). In analysis of variance models, fast food contained 33% less energy than full service meals (P<0.001). In Finland, worksite canteens provided 25% less energy than full service and fast food restaurants (mean 880 (SD 156) versus 1166 (298); P=0.009). Country, restaurant type, number of meal components, and meal weight predicted meal energy in a factorial analysis of variance (R2=0.62, P<0.001). Ninety four per cent of full service meals and 72% of fast food meals contained at least 600 kcal. Modeling indicated that, except in China, consuming current servings of a full service and a fast food meal daily would supply between 70% and 120% of the daily energy requirements for a sedentary woman, without additional meals, drinks, snacks, appetizers, or desserts.


Very high dietary energy content of both full service and fast food restaurant meals is a widespread phenomenon that is probably supporting global obesity and provides a valid intervention target.


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