Whenever and wherever you were brought up, fast food has always been far from the healthiest option on the table. From the moment that we decided to turn mealtimes into conveyor belts of reconstituted beef bits, we all accepted that we were shaving about 10 years off our life expectancy. The general wisdom is that, thanks to aggressive campaigning and increased awareness, our fast food is at least slightly better for us than the pink slime-riddled goop enjoyed by previous generations. However, a shocking new report has suggested that this couldn’t be further from the truth.
According to a new study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, even an explosion of new salad options and fresh fruit and veg hasn’t prevented fast food from reaching a 30 year health slump. Closely examining a mixture of starters, sides, mains and desserts, researchers were astonished to discover that portion sizes, calories and sodium content have all dramatically increased since 1986.
The study examined food from 10 of the most popular fast food chains, focusing on three representative years from three separate decades - 1986, 1991 and 2016. The results were startling. As lead investigator Megan A. McCrory, PhD, from the Department of Health Sciences at Boston University put it in an interview with Forbes, “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."
The study suggests that the main cause for this dramatic turn of events is portion sizes. The report states that, “Portion sizes of entrées (13 g/decade) and desserts (24 g/decade), but not sides, increased significantly, and the energy (kilocalories) and sodium of items in all three menu categories (also) increased significantly.” It goes on to explain that “Desserts showed the largest increase in energy (62 kcal/decade), and entrées had the largest increase in sodium (4.6% DV/decade).”
During a presentation of the study’s findings McCrory highlighted how these increases can pose a serious problem. “On any given day, about 37% of adults [under 20] eat fast food, while 45% of adults between the ages of 20 and 39 years eat fast food,” she revealed, adding, “Given the popularity of fast food, our study highlights one of the changes in our food environment that is likely part of the reason for the increase in obesity and related chronic conditions over the past several decades, which are now among the main causes of death in the U.S.”
The shocking results of this depressing study can at least teach us an important lesson about what we eat. Diversifying our diet and adding a few token leaves here and there doesn’t change the fact that, if we eat more bad stuff, we’re going to be worse off. We can dress it up however we like, but if our burgers keep getting bigger, so will we.