Fast food has gotten more unhealthy over the last three decades, study says

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Don’t let those new salads fool you: The overall options at fast-food restaurants are becoming unhealthier by the decade, according to a new study.

The study, led by Megan A. McCrory, PhD, of Boston University and reported in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, found that overall, the calorie count and sodium levels of entrees, sides and desserts at 10 popular fast-food chains had “increased significantly” over a 30-year period. The findings also indicated that the portion sizes of entrees and desserts at these restaurants had swelled significantly.

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“Despite the vast number of choices offered at fast-food restaurants, some of which are healthier than others, the calories, portion sizes and sodium content overall have worsened (increased) over time and remain high,” said McCrory, who works in BU’s Department of Health, according a press release published by Science Daily.

Researchers centered on three specific time periods — 1986, 1991 and 2016 — when conducting the study, and concluded that increases in calorie counts were “mainly” related to the increase in portion sizes at popular fast-food restaurants.

“The requirement that chain restaurants display calories on their menus is a start," lead researcher Megan A. McCrory suggested of ways to educate customers of nutrition information.

“The requirement that chain restaurants display calories on their menus is a start,” lead researcher Megan A. McCrory suggested of ways to educate customers of nutrition information.
(iStock)

One positive finding? Iron levels in entrees, and iron and calcium levels in desserts, had actually “increased significantly” over the years, though the study urges there are better sources for these nutrients.

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“We need to find better ways to help people consume fewer calories and sodium at fast-food restaurants,” McCrory concluded of the findings.

“The requirement that chain restaurants display calories on their menus is a start. We would like to see more changes, such as restaurants offering smaller portions at a proportional prices.”

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