Fast Food Has Gotten LESS Healthy Over the Past 30 Years

If you grew up in the 1980’s, you might remember the thrill of getting a Happy Meal every once in a while. Going out for fast-food was a treat back then, not a regular occurrence. But the frequency in which Americans eat fast-food isn’t the only thing that has changed in the past 30 or so years. Though many headlines tell us that fast food is getting healthier as time goes on, others say that this already-unhealthy food has gotten even worse. [1]

Earlier this year, researchers at Tufts University and Boston University looked at 10 popular fast-food joints, including McDonald’s, KFC, and Dairy Queen. They found that the entrees, the sides, and the desserts have exploded in size, in calorie count, and in sodium over the past 3 decades. There is more to choose from, but those newer options have become increasingly less nutritious.

Read: Why You Should Avoid Fast-Food at All Costs

Minus a sugary beverage, the average fast-food entree still contains an average of 770 calories. Compared to 30 years ago, portion sizes are nearly 20% bigger, and entrees contain about 90 more calories. Desserts, in particular, have become bigger belt-busters and artery-cloggers, as about 200 calories have been added to the sweet treats. [1] [2]

Nearly 14% of the daily recommended value of sodium has been added to fast-food sandwiches, and fries now contain about 12% more salt than they did in the days of big hair and heavy metal music. [2]

It goes without saying that these increases have greatly contributed to the obesity epidemic.

Lead researcher Megan McCrory, a research associate professor at Boston University, said: [2]

“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.”

Portion sizes, as well, have ballooned in the past 3 decades. Per decade, entree sizes rose by 13 grams and about 30 calories, while desserts increased by 24 grams and about 62 calories – at least. Portion sizes for sides remained about the same, but the number of calories rose by about 14 calories per decade.

Americans’ appetites for greasy fast-food grub has gone through the food, as well. About 37% of Americans hit up a fast-food joint on any given day. Fast food made up 11% of all Americans’ daily calories between 2007 and 2010 – nearly triple what it was between 1977 and 1978 when it was just 4%. [1] [2]

The researchers say posting calorie counts on menus helps buyers make more healthful choices, but menu offerings need to shrink.

Read: CDC – More Than 1 in 3 Americans Eat Fast-Food Every Day

McCrory said:

“We need to find better ways to help people consume fewer calories and sodium at fast-food restaurants. 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 … proportional prices.”

The study was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.


[1] CBS News Boston

[2] Daily Mail

Featured image source: YouTube/Buzzfeed

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