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‘Eating Out’ Now An Unhealthy Option, Overall

Researchers at Tufts University wanted to know how restaurant diners’ menu choices stack up nutritionally. So they looked at the dining preferences of adults in a large scale survey of eating habits over a span of 14 years, at all classes of restaurants, and were disappointed at the results…

BK Whopper Meal - © Burger KingClassic Fast Food Meal: Questionable nutritional value…

What they did

A team led by Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, Senior Author of the Study Report, data-mined restaurant dining selections of more than 35,000 American adults who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2003 to 2016. the analysis included meals taken at full-service (those with wait staff) or fast-food restaurants, which included pizza shops and Fast Food joins, known officially in their industry as Quick Service Restaurants.

Accoring to an abstract of the Report, “The researchers assessed nutritional quality by evaluating specific foods and nutrients in the meals, based on the American Heart Association 2020 diet score.”

What they found

The teams most notable findings included:

  • A surprising 70 percent of the meals Americans consumed at Fast Food joints were of poor dietary quality in 2015-16, down from 75 percent in 2003-04.
  • At full-service restaurants, about 50 percent were of poor nutritional quality, an amount that remained stable over the study period.
  • Less than 0.1 percent – almost none – of all the restaurant meals consumed over the study period were of ideal quality.

“Our findings show dining out is a recipe for unhealthy eating most of the time,” said Mozaffarian. “It should be a priority to improve the nutritional quality of both full-service and fast-food restaurant meals, while reducing disparities so that all Americans can enjoy the pleasure and convenience of a meal out that is also good for them.”

The researchers also looked at the extent to which Americans relied on restaurants during the study period and found:

  • Restaurant meals accounted for 21 percent of Americans’ total calorie intake.
  • Full-service restaurant meals represented 9 percent of total calories consumed.
  • Fast-food meals represented 12 percent of total calories consumed.
  • Fast-food breakfasts increased from just over 4 percent to nearly 8 percent of all breakfasts eaten in America.

“We found the largest opportunities for enhancing nutritional quality would be adding more whole grains, nuts and legumes, fish, and fruits and vegetables to meals while reducing salt,” said Study First Author Junxiu Liu.

The takeaway

“Our food is the number one cause of poor health in the country, representing a tremendous opportunity to reduce diet-related illness and associated healthcare spending,” Mozaffarian said. “At restaurants, two forces are at play: what’s available on the menu, and what Americans are actually selecting. Efforts from the restaurant industry, consumers, advocacy groups, and governments should focus on both these areas.”

My take

Given the amount of restaurant dining North Americans are doing, it seems crucial to follow Mozaffarian’s advice and get all those involved to increase their focus on improvinmg the nutritional standards of non-home-cooked meals. I’ll bet a concerted effort there would save the health care system billions of dollars annually…

~ Maggie J.