Bauer notes that very high calorie items have been added to menus at the same time as the lower-calorie items, and it may be difficult for an average consumer to sort through these rapidly expanding fast food menus.
In the last years examined, 2009 and 2010, lunch and dinner entrees had 453 calories on average per item while side items had 263 calories on average.
"You might order a lower-calorie entree, but then you get a drink, fries and a dessert," said Bauer. "Calories can add up very quickly. A salad can be low calorie, but not when it includes fried chicken and ranch dressing. Sweetened teas are just empty calories."
Eating fast food becomes a concern when someone eats too much of it too often. Studies have consistently found associations between fast food intake and excess weight and weight gain among adults. A recent survey of adults found that 80 percent purchased fast food in the past month and 28 percent consumed it two or more times a week. On a typical day, nearly 40 percent of teens consume fast food.
"We're not saying you shouldn't ever eat fast food, but you need to think about things like portion size, preparation method, condiments and the total caloric content of your meal," said Bauer.
In the near future, consumers will be able to see calories for all food items posted at restaurants and food vendors with more than 20 locations, as mandated by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. McDonalds recently began posting calories on its menus.
"Using this study as a start, we'll be able to see if being required to post the calorie content of menu items the primary aim of which is to inform consumers prompts any changes by the fast food industry," said Bauer. "While some localities such as Philadelphia and New York City already require menu labeling, when the effort is rolled out nation-wide fast food restaurants may modify the calorie content of the foods they sell
|Contact: Eryn Jelesiewicz|