With many popular fast food restaurants now advertising “healthier” options, it seems reasonable to assume that the overall health of those restaurants has improved. According to a study looking at data from the last 14 years, that assumption would be incorrect.
The American Journal of Preventive Medicine released a report May 7 that revealed only small improvements in nutrition of certain fast food restaurants from 1997 to 2010. The restaurants evaluated were McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Arby’s, Jack in the Box and Dairy Queen. Those restaurants were rated by researchers using the Healthy Eating Index (HEI), a system devised by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Rated on the HEI scale from 0-100, the restaurants averaged a score of 45 in 1997-1998, a score that only raised three points to 48 in 2009-2010.
Ratings were given both comprehensively and based on individual criteria. Some criteria rated were total fruit, total grains, total vegetables, oils and sodium. When looked at individually, some of the restaurants saw considerable improvement in specific categories. KFC had the highest ratings in vegetables and total grains. Of the eight restaurants evaluated, KFC, with a 9-point increase, was the most improved restaurant. In spite of KFC’s increase, Taco Bell was the highest scoring with a rating of 56 out of 100. Dairy Queen had the lowest score with a dismal 38 out of 100.
Researchers assigned a score of 60 to the American food supply, and expected that fast food restaurants would score below that number. What was not expected was the minute improvement in health the restaurants made. Scores ranged from 37-56 in 1997-1998 and 38-56 in 2009-2010. The results were both disappointing and surprising considering many restaurants seem to have made an effort to improve their food’s overall nutrition. Data collection stopped in 2010, which may account for some of the lack of visible improvement. There is a possibility that the restaurants evaluated have made progress toward more healthful menus since then.