Fast food restaurants fall short on health claims

In 2010, Subway surpassed McDonald's as the world's biggest restaurant chain after the fast food giant had held the crown for several decades.  What's the biggest difference?  While McDonald's continues to serve fat- and calorie-packed meals, Subway promotes healthier options, and consumers have responded well.  In recent years, big chains have begun to offer their own “healthy” meals—use of terms such as “healthy” and “low-fat” on menus has increased 86 and 33 percent respectively--but a new study has found that fast food menus haven’t improved all that much.

The report from St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota, found that, based on the Healthy Eating Index--a measure of diet quality that assesses federal diet guidelines--the overall health quality of fast food is still poor.  In 2010, food items scored 48 points on average out of a possible 100, an increase from 44 points in 1997. It’s an improvement, but not a significant one.  KFC made the greatest improvement among those restaurants studied, going from a 42 score in 1997 to 51 in 2010.

The researchers also noted that for every healthier option available, the big fast food chains also tended to add less healthy items as well, in terms of calories, fat, salt and sugar.  That tended to neutralize improvements in their menus.

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