Are fast food chains pulling a fast one? Health claims don't hold up

Offerings are bigger, heavier and saltier than ever

Don Ames
March 11, 2019 - 8:26 am

Despite claims by fast food chains that they're serving healthy food, it appears their offerings have become increasingly more and more unhealthy. 

A new study from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says the size and calorie content of fast food items at the country's most popular restaurants has increased considerably over the past three decades. 

Despite health claims, the chains' servings have gotten bigger, saltier and heavier. "It's mixed messages. It's mixed messages from the consumer to the fast food industry, and also from the fast food industry to the consumer," says Molly Kimball, registered dietician with Ochsner Fitness Center.

"We, as a population say, and maybe want, to eat healthier. But then, we're easily tempted by the things that aren't healthy at all. And the fast food industry knows it." 

Kimball says the restaurants may offer some healthy options to feel noble, or appear so, but they know full well we're easily swayed. "I don't know if I'd say they're trying to fool us. But, they certainly make it really easy and really reduce the barriers to allow us to make these choices that are not healthy at all." 

And, while those bigger portions may increase our bottoms, they're not hurting the restaurants' bottom line. "A lot of the items that are going up in size...they're cheap. They're the cheap ingredients that cost restaurants and fast food chains just pennies, if that. Yet, we feel like we're getting more value." Kimball points to potatoes, for example. She says those super sized fries cost the restaurants next to nothing.

"The other thing I think is worth noting is that a lot of the healthier items at fast food places really aren't too healthy. By the time you load up all the extras on that salad, you might be better off getting the burger in the first place."

The Nutrition and Dietetics researchers studied 1,787 mains, sides and desserts at 10 fast food chains - Arby's, Burger King, Carl's Jr., Dairy Queen, Hardee's, Jack in the Box, KFC, Long John Silver's, McDonald's and Wendy's. 

The latest study by the CDC found that 36.6% of U.S. adults consumed fast food on any given day. while 93.3 million people were recently classified as obese.  

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