Food and Behaviour Research

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Temporal Trends in Fast-Food Restaurant Energy, Sodium, Saturated Fat, and Trans Fat Content, United States, 1996-2013.

Urban LE, Roberts SB, Fierstein JL, Gary CE, Lichtenstein AH (2014) Prev Chronic Dis.   doi: 10.5888/pcd11.140202 



Excess intakes of energysodiumsaturated fat, and trans fat are associated with increased risk for cardiometabolic syndrome.Trends in fast-food restaurant portion sizes can inform policy decisions. We examined the variability of popular food items in 3 fast-food restaurants in the United States by portion size during the past 18 years.


Items from 3 national fast-food chains were selected: French fries, cheeseburgers, grilled chicken sandwich, and regular cola. Data onenergysodiumsaturated fat, and trans fat content were collated from 1996 through 2013 using an archival website. Time trends were assessed using simple linear regression models, using energy or a nutrient component as the dependent variable and the year as the independent variable.


For most items, energy content per serving differed among chain restaurants for all menu items (P ≤ .04); energy content of 56% of items decreased (β range, -0.1 to -5.8 kcal) and the content of 44% increased (β range, 0.6-10.6 kcal). For sodium, the content of 18% of the items significantly decreased (β range, -4.1 to -24.0 mg) and the content for 33% increased (β range, 1.9-29.6 mg). Absolute differences were modest. Thesaturated and trans fat content, post-2009, was modest for French fries. In 2013, the energy content of a large-sized bundled meal (cheeseburger, French fries, and regular cola) represented 65% to 80% of a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet, and sodium content represented 63% to 91% of the 2,300-mg-per-day recommendation and 97% to 139% of the 1,500-mg-per-day recommendation.


Findings suggest that efforts to promote reductions in energysodiumsaturated fat, and trans fat intakes need to be shifted from emphasizing portion-size labels to additional factors such as total calories, frequency of eating, number of items ordered, menu choices, and energy-containing beverages.